twist your tongue around the world

Sometimes your tongue gets in a knot and the words just don’t come out.

But if you can untangle it, you will sound fluent as never before.

I tell first time visitors to Finland that they can find the lift because it makes a hissing noise (“hissi” is elevator in Finnish). They don’t realise it’s a water sprite making that sound.:Vesihiisi sihisi hississä. Listen to him here (number 44). How fast can you say it?

If you are really clever – and Polish – you can get all the letters of your alphabet in just once, and make a sentence. Pójdźże, kiń tę chmurność w głąb flaszy (Come, drop your gloom into the depth of a bottle, which is what you might feel like doing if you can’t say it). Or you can hide a secret message of faith in a nonsense acrostic in Latin, like the ancient Roman Christians (number 19 here). In the centre on both axes, is the word tenet, literally “holds”, or an article of faith, in the shape of a cross.


A Welsh person abroad is obliged to say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave) as a party piece. It’s not a tongue twister, it’s just an extra long place name which was apparently made up to increase tourism. Listen to a native saying it properly.

But the Welsh have been outdone by the Maoris; their place name is even longer, and wildly more romantic: MaoriGreenstoneJadeTwistTaumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu (The place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed, and swallowed mountains, known as landeater, played his nose flute, to his loved one).

All these come from this website, where you can submit your own tongue twisters to add to the world’s knowledge. From Ancient Hebrew (shibboleths from the Song of Songs) to Zulu, there’s something for everyone, including over 500 English tongue twisters. Of which, in my opinion, the simple “red lorry, yellow lorry” is still the most difficult…

Translator, editor, writer, reader

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