I remember having ‘tongue twisters’ competition with my friends back in school. To be honest, I was no good at them. I would fumble my way to the last line (provided my friends did not break into peals of laughter by that time!). No wonder I have never been fond of tongue twisters. But what intrigues me now is that whose original idea gave birth to these tongue twisters? The Poirot in me could not find the exact ‘culprit’, but he did find these…
The famous tongue twister
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck,
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
He would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could
If a woodchuck could chuck wood,
Is actually a song! In 1902, Robert Hobart Davis wrote this song for Fay Templeton. It was used in the musical The Runaways. This song captured the limelight in 1904 and was recorded by Ragtime Roberts.
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The Real Peter Piper
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
This man, Peter Piper, is actually based on a real-life pirate and horticulturist, Pierre Poivre. During his time, spices were called peppers. Trade companies would deliberately keep low supply by applying lime on the seeds (this is where the “pickled” peppers came from). Thus, the demand for spices increased, resulting in a price hike. Poivre stole spices from stores, grew them in his garden and sold them to the common man at inexpensive rates. (I wonder if Robin Hood was based on this man too??!!)
She sells seashells on the seashore
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the seashore
Then I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
I always wondered (instead, pictured in my mind) that this tongue twister is about a girl who sells shells and trinkets on the beach. I was not wrong. It’s just that, and I knew much less than half the real story.
The “she” over here is Mary Anning. She was born in 1799 in Dorset, England. Anning belonged to an impoverished family. Her father used to collect shells and fossils from the beach and sell them to tourists. Mary and her brother inherited this skill of recognizing fossils from him. The siblings loved this job and worked really hard in digging up fossils. In 1811, the siblings unearthed a fossilized skeleton. They thought that it was a giant crocodile. However, later identified as the Ichthyosaurus. This brought them worldwide fame. Then, Anning also discovered the remains of the Plesiosaurus and the Pterosaurs.
The exciting part is, all this took place much before Darwin’s Theory of Evolution came into being. Anning’s discovery threw some light on the idea of extinction, and the scientists started thinking differently. I guess this is why they said that one should dig in the right place at the right time!