E.R. Dillon is a member of my long-standing on-line critique group. She shares my love of amusing use and misuse of the English language.
Watch Your Tongue!
by E.R. Dillon
Let’s try a fun experiment.
|Was Kyle Shaw's father a traitor or a patriot? |
Read the words ‘red leather, yellow leather.’
“Easy,” you say.
Now, try saying ‘red leather, yellow leather’ aloud three times as quickly as you can without looking at the words.
Not so easy that time. Why?
Let’s try again.
Say ‘rolling red wagons’ aloud three times as quickly as you can without
looking at the words.
“But,” you say, “those are simple words. Why are they so hard to pronounce?”
Your brain processes information instantaneously, and your tongue is a nimble muscle.
However, when words with similar sounds are spoken together, your brain transmits a signal to your tongue faster than your tongue can obey.[i] The result is a tongue twister.
|Are ritualist killings the work of druids or |
something more sinister?
But sometimes the tongue stumbles over words that are not tongue twisters. What then?
Talking too fast
can cause stumbling speech or make a sentence sound like one long word. The
solution: speak more slowly. Your tongue needs that extra instant to respond to
your brain’s signal.
When you are alone, practice reading aloud slowly. Pronounce each syllable clearly. Not only will your speech patterns improve, but your reading skills will improve, too.
What about specific troublesome words, like ‘s’ words spoke with a lisping ‘th’ sound, or perhaps ‘r’ words coming out with a ‘w’ sound? What can be done?
Speech therapists[ii] suggest making an effort to pronounce difficult words correctly. Once you have mastered correct pronunciation, practice saying the word aloud in front of a mirror. Don’t practice when you are tired. When you are comfortable saying a difficult word properly, use that word in everyday speech to embed the correct pronunciation in your memory.
But wait! There’s more.
Along with tongue twisters and lisps, there are also slips of the tongue known as spoonerisms[iii] (spoon’er-iz-ems).
Spoonerisms were named after Reverend William A. Spooner (1844-1930) of Oxford, England.
|Is the dead man behind the brickwork a victim |
or a victimizer?
Reverend Spooner was famous for mixing up his words and phrases without knowing it. The results were, and are still, amusing. One time, while officiating at a wedding, Reverend Spooner prompted a hesitant groom by saying, “It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride.” What he meant was, “It is now customary to kiss the bride.” And while praying at chapel, Reverend Spooner said, “Our Lord is a shoving leopard,” when he meant, “Our Lord is a loving shepherd.” Even today, we use a spoonerism without knowing it: Butterfly. The original name for that winged creature was Flutter-by.
So, if you should ever be called upon to say ‘real rock wall’ or ‘fresh fruit slush’ aloud quickly three times in a row, don’t get your tang in a tungle. Take a deep breath and speak slowly, or better still, smile and politely decline.
[i]. Fromkin, Victoria A. of University of California, Los Angeles, Slips of the Tongue: Windows to the Mind, “Spoonerisms”: 2001
[ii]. Casserly, Carol, MA, CCC-SLP Newton, NJ, Carol’s Speech and Language Disorders Homepage – Articles, “Speech Therapy”: 2001
[iii]. Reverend Spooner’s Tips of the Slung, Reader’s Digest: February 1995
E.R. Dillon is the author of the Deputy Kyle Shaw Mysteries, set in 13th Century Scotland.