Each of us comes equipped with quite a marvelous tool. We learn to use it from birth for enjoying ice cream, as a great intellectual place keeper when held firmly between the teeth while concentrating, for ice cream, and for delivering cruel cutting curses of coarse castigation, soft and soothing sounds of love, or ordering pizza (and ice cream) all with the same instrument.
I’m talking about the tongue of course, and it’s the subject of discussion this week.
Unless you have been a politician or public speaker, broadcaster or actor, the chances are you’ve never given your tongue a lot of consideration concerning the role it plays in making you a successful communicator.
It also comes in handy for proving that you can lick your elbow, or the tip of your nose (but only if you don’t have a cold), and it’s great for licking stamps (but who does that any more). You think about it when your teeth and your brain get out of sync and you bite the poor thing (oh the pain!) or when you lick you lips in expectation of an explosion of epicurean excellence.
But when it comes to the crunch (no more tongue-biting) many of us just don’t realize how crucial it is in forming the words that are the stuff of stunning soliloquies or stumbling sentences of slurred speech masquerading as vocabulary.
So troop, let’s whip that puppy into shape with a little exercise. You go to the gym don’t you? Okay, well, even if you think about going to the gym, you’ll discover that a little exercise goes a long way (especially if there’s ice cream at the end of it). When I was at the broadcast academy, Broad Casters In Training, in the days of steam radio, I was assigned to perform vocal variations, lip locutions and exercises of exactitudes through the application of torturous tongue twisters that had to be delivered with precision.
So to ward off this slippery slope to sloth, here are a few of many exercises to practice daily (marbles in the mouth optional).
– The old standard, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
– or, Red leather, yellow leather (repeat over and over quickly)
– Unique New York (will tie you up)
– How about Punjabi – Dubba Tuppu Khal Tapp, Tup Dubbe Tuppuah
– The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick. This was long considered to be the most difficult, but according to USA Today, researchers at Massachusetts (a tongue twister in itself) Institute of Technology have declared the following to be the world’s most difficult:
Pad kid poured curd pulled cold (repeat over and over quickly)
According to the story, the MIT psychologists, who created the twister, said participants in the study had two reactions when they attempted this combination of words. They either failed to repeat it or stopped talking altogether. That could be promising with certain people we know.
So I’ll leave you to ponder the above until next week with that famous exclamation of surprise from the southern US:
Well, shut my mouth!
Contact me with any language questions comments of column ideas. firstname.lastname@example.org