They’ve been tripping you up since you were a tot (try saying that three times fast), but have you ever stopped to wonder where infamous tongue twisters got their start? Here are the origin stories of a few of the most commonly known tongue twisters in the world.
This classic tongue twister has often been attributed to English fossil collector, dealer and paleontologist Mary Anning. However, an in-depth article on the true origin notes the earliest known printing of it stemmed from an 1855 English primer. Technically, the primer could have been inspired by Anning, given she died several years before its printing, but there is no actual evidence linking the two. Instead, the phrase continued to be adapted and evolved in a number of educational textbooks for several decades, until singer Terry Sullivan dropped it into a folk song that broke big. As with most folklore, someone, somewhere attributed Sullivan’s song to Mary Anning, and the myth stuck. For better or worse, this pioneering woman’s accomplishments are an unusual footnote to this pervasive saying.
The origin of this cheeky phrase (trying asking Siri on your phone) comes from an early 20th-century song written by Robert Hobart Davis and Theodore F. Morse as part of a comedy musical that ran in New York City. The song was carried beyond the theater district’s borders thanks to sheet music and phonograph records. For the record, in the 1980s, a wildlife conservation officer named Richard Thomas attempted to discern an answer to the question, with an answer of approximately 700 pounds of wood … if, of course, a woodchuck decided it wanted to chuck wood at all.
Much like “She sells seashells,” this tongue twister stems from an English school primer in the 1800s. This particular collection, titled Peter Piper’s Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation (1813), had one tongue twister for every letter of the alphabet to ensure ideal elocution. Interestingly, Peter Piper is also the anglicized version of Pierre Poivre (Peter Pepper in English), a French horticulturist and pirate known for raiding Dutch spices and plants. The two are often historically linked thanks to their earthy (if unproven) connotations.
This may be one of the easier tongue twisters out there, but it’s got a complicated history. In the early 1900s, American ice cream purveyors began using the phrase to promote their cool treats. But the phrase didn’t become as popular as chocolate chip cookie dough until the 1920s, when musicians Howard Johnson, Billy Moll and Robert King wrote a song of the same name, which was further popularized in a jazz standard cover in the ’40s.