MIT Researchers Say They Have Created The Trickiest Tongue Twister To Date

Try and say “pad kid poured curd pulled cod” 10 times fast.

Tongue Photo via Shutterstock.com

Tongue Photo via Shutterstock.com

The old saying “Sally sold seashells by the seashore” has nothing on a tongue twister created by researchers at MIT. The verbal puzzle, “pad kid poured curd pulled cod,” tripped up test subjects who tried to spit it out so much, that psychologists believe it could be the toughest one there is to date.

“If anyone can say this [phrase] ten times quickly, they get a prize,” said Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, a psychologist from MIT who specializes in speech errors as a way of understanding normal brain functions, and one of the creators of the mouth-boggling phrase.

On Thursday Shattuck-Hufnagel is presenting her research about the comparison of two types of tongue twisters, including the difficult phrase, at the Acoustical Society of America in San Francisco. The presentation will be based on research conducted with a team from MIT, where scientists recorded the misspoken sounds for terms like “top cop,” and “toy boat,” to see what errors people produced.

The researchers recorded volunteers saying combinations of alternating words that fell into two categories: simple lists of words, such as the “top cop” example, and full-sentence versions of the same sounds with an inversion, such as “the top cop saw a cop top,” according to a statement about the research. After listening to the recordings, the analysts found that there were patterns in the slip-ups when volunteers tried to annunciate certain strings of similar sounding words. Based on that, they tried to induce different types of double onsets, commonly referred to as double sound mistakes by linguists.

“When things go wrong [when speaking], that can tell you something about how the typical, error-free operation should go,” Shattuck-Hufnagel said.

When they created the combination of words in the phrase “pad kid poured curd pulled cod,” it was so difficult, that participants either couldn’t repeat it, or simply stopped trying altogether.

Because errors occurred for both categories they tested, researchers believe there could be an underlying connection between how the brain takes in the information, and then spits it out of a person’s mouth. “You can get both kinds of errors in both kinds of planning,” she said.

Shattuck-Hufnagel’s presentation will be based on research with MIT scientists, and colleagues from Wellesley University, Haskins Laboratories, and Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. The discussion will look at findings from a paper titled, “A comparison of speech errors elicited by sentences and alternating repetitive tongue twisters.”

They are already working on the next phase of their research, which includes putting tiny transducers on peoples’ tongues in order to measure their articulation.

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  • James Conner

    This does not qualify in my book…..”Pad kid (?) ….and the other words do not make sensical spoken english in any dialect. Sally and Peter Piper at least COULD be spoken as sentences. All MIT has done is put tough sounds together in a row – you might as well put error prone syllables together to form one nonsense word four miles long.
    And really, this is what is being done in our elite level universities today ? Was this not obvious and well studied already at some lower academic level ?

    • brian_x

      Well… let’s see. “Pad kid” could be the guy who delivers mattresses, while “curd pulled cod” is some kind of vaguely mozzarella-like fish dish.

      • Miriam

        Yes, and it’s pourable….a type of freeze-dried camping food?

  • http://dailyoftheday.com/ Nona Raybern

    Gimme my prize, because I just did it. TAKE THAT, MIT.

  • ve11ocet

    “the sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick” Take that MIT!

    • Permanent Guest

      I like yours better

    • ss396

      The MIT folks have arranged a sequence of hard consonants that flow from the front of the mouth to the back and to the front again – all in a very regular way: puh-duh-cuh-duh-puh-duh-cuh-duh (with one stray ‘el’ sound). I’m too lazy to work at it, but I would expect a more randomized arrangement – such as yours – to generally be more difficult.

      Seems like they found a conclusion, and generalized the data to fit that conclusion.

  • Branovices

    For some reason using a quasi-Indian accent made this a lot easier.

  • yob

    “Annunciate”? Sigh.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glrQXIl_YNs Phaerisee

    I can’t say it but it makes me hungry for spicy Thai food.

  • not123upnorth

    That’s a nasty looking tongue.

  • dikfor

    Money well spent.

  • gkissel

    Looking at the phrase and saying it fast 10 times, while looking at it, was actually quite easy.

  • Smokeygrl

    Nothing beats this doozy after a couple pints:

    I am a mother pheasant plucker,
    I pluck mother pheasants.
    I am the best mother pheasant plucker,
    That ever plucked a mother pheasant!

    • SuperWittySmitty

      The first one I learned as a kid was “I shot the city sheriff.” Few people can say it ten times in a row. Even more difficult? Say “toy boat” really fast and try to say it ten times. Impossible.

  • bigpencil

    Not the hardest – not by a long shot.

  • Misanthrope

    Yeah, it’s so incredibly difficult you need to repeat it 10 times to be tripped up.
    Try “black bug’s blood” 3 times – much more difficult.

    • IKnowItAll

      The big black bug bled bright blue blood.

  • jack burton

    found it very easy

  • LisaBethW

    Way easy. What a ridiculous topic for research.

  • more compost

    It isn’t “Sally sold seashells by the seashore.” That hardly qualifies as a tongue twister. It is “She sells seashells by the seashore.” That is MUCH harder to say than “Sally sold.”

  • John

    That one is not hard from memory, reading it messes you up. Because the words are sounded differently but spelled similarly. “The sixth Sheikh’s Sixth Sheep’s sick” is a bit harder than that.

  • IKnowItAll

    It’s only “hard” because it’s gibberish and not an actual sentence.

  • KCCO

    Bill Murray could master this with ease

  • kelemvor

    What do they consider “Quickly” I can say it 10 times in about 17 seconds without any trouble.

    • Macranthunter

      Exactly. My experience as well. Once I deciphered some kind of meaning from the sentence, I was able to say it quickly as long as I could read it. Not looking at it, it was difficult to remember “curd pulled cod”.

  • hkdharmon

    I have no problem saying this tongue twister. I know many that are much more difficult.

  • Mark Thogmartin

    Try saying “unique New York” several times. Now that’s tough!

  • John Reinert Nash

    The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.

  • LeoBassy

    Got a couple I made up “Silly Slick Sam” and “Smokies Sixth Mile”

  • IanFromHKG

    Nowhere near as hard as my favourite (which someone might actually say): Peggy Babcock

  • Jenifer

    When did Wellesley College become Wellesley University?

    • Sparafucile

      Too soon, obviously.

  • sandra

    Shouldn’t that be Try TO say?

  • Gary Mathis

    A big black bug bit a big black bear and a big black bear bit a big black bug.

  • Macranthunter

    Pad kid poured curd pulled cod simply isn’t tough to say or say rapidly. Ten times in a row was difficult but I managed after only two failed attempts. There simply is no way this is the “toughest” tongue twister. The Bear bug thing below is actually a toughy.

  • Sparafucile

    You’re kidding, right? It’s not April 1, and this so-called tongue twister is nothing of the sort. If you can speak with any level of patter (like a Rossini Opera singer), then this phrase is downright trivial. If your patter skills are lacking, it’s STILL pretty simple.

  • Andy

    To everyone saying this is easy… BS. Video or it didn’t happen. Post it on youtube, let’s hear it!

  • reno

    enunciate*

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1103976604 Barb Short

    A sign in the window of a tailor’s shop says “We re-weave rips.”

  • Mel Allen

    I’d take that challenge

  • mr blint

    I have all kinds of trouble with “toy boat” but can say the “pad kid…” tongue-twister with no trouble at all. Tongue-twisting could have less to do with brain signals and more to do with transitioning from one lingual position to another (i.e. how you hold your mouth to produce the sounds), especially if the positions are physically distant or unalike each other, or if the sounds do not typically occur in succession in the native language of the speaker whose tongue is being twisted by the exercise. The vowel in “toy” requires the lips to be pursed and the vowel is sounded forward in the nasal cavity, whereas the vowel in “boat” requires a completely different lip position, and the vowel is sounded in the back of the throat. To the extent that “muscle-memory” is a brain-phenomenon, the brain is involved, but my first stop when trying to figure our why a repeated phrase causes trouble would not be the brain but the (in)frequency of the phonemic series in the person’s native language.