Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tongue Twisters

The lazy post this morning on Dwarf Planet Press on the occasion of Groundhog Day suggested to me that the Editors there might have at minimum identified this animal by its Latin name, particularly for those of us from Europe who did not encounter this animal in the normal course of life, even of rural life. The creature is Marmota monax, familiarly the woodchuck, a member of the rodent family. And woodchuck then reminded me of the following, which DPP should also have featured:
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
     if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
     if a woodchuck could chuck wood!
That in turn reminded me of one of the best-known tongue twisters in Hungarian. Hungarians are such a tiny minority here, and most certainly discriminated against (I experience it daily, even at home from my wife of the more populous German extraction) therefore I present the following without apologies, indeed with attitude:

Az ibafai papnak fapipája van,
Ezért az ibafai papi pipa papi fapipa.
Which witty tongue twister means: The priest from Ibafa has a wooden pipe. Therefore the priestly pipe of Ibafa is a wooden priestly pipe. (Not a mean translator, either, your blogger).

In acknowledgement of the French branch of Ghulfdom, I herewith go on to present the following. French-persons will naturally note that a French tongue twister must transcend the genre by also being full of puns:

Mon père est maire, mon frère est masseur.
Academics would leave that one alone by way of saying: “If you can’t understand that without me, you are ignorant indeed,” but here we follow a more generous policy. “My father is mayor, my brother is a masseur.” But if you ignore the spelling, “mayor” sounds out as “mother” and “masseur” as “my sister,” hence "My father is my mother, my brother my sister."

With a nod to Quito, Ecuador—where, as all the world knows, the Ghulfs shall establish their famed family seat in the 2250s—here one in the Spanish language:

¿Usted no nada nada?
No, no traje traje.
The meaning is “You don’t swim at all?” Answer: “No, I didn't bring a suit.” This exchange exploits the homonymous character of “nothing” and “swim” and “brought” and “suit.” The doubling of words adds a quality, especially in that “No, no” violates the seeming rule.

Finally, here is one in German:

This twister additionally exploits what all linguists know, namely that in German you can make nouns by simply compressing a whole lot of other nouns. The meaning: Assassination of the aunt of a Hottentot potentate.
Some of these twisters courtesy of 1st International Collection of Tongue Twisters at http://www.uebersetzung.at/twister/index.htm.


  1. Woodchucks in their groundhog guise weren't the only tongue-twisters in the news today.

    There was an interesting review from today's Science Times of a book about the original she who sold seashells by the sea shore: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/science/02scibooks.html?ref=science.

  2. Thanks for the alert. Nice article, nice coincidence.