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By Sheila Zanghi
contributing writer 

The twisting of tongues


Sheila Zanghi.

I was lucky to have great teachers growing up. My 7th grade English teacher was very remarkable. She was imposingly tall with black hair and big brown eyes. Her clothes were conservatively cut but she wore unfamiliar colors like deep burgundy and intense navy blue, often paired with wildly printed scarves.

At the time I thought she was old but she was probably in her 30s. She had an exotic presence. From the first day she set the pace by setting down the rules and keeping us in line with her fierce eyes.

She made English exciting. Even learning how to diagram sentences made us feel as though we were archeologists uncovering the secrets of sentence structure. She also assigned us daily or weekly tasks. One task was making up clues to figure out our classmates' last names. These clues would be written on the chalkboard. I remember one clue was, "2,000 pounds of mud" for our classmate named "Clayton" and another was "sly pig" for "Cunningham." Mine was easy: "Bartering" for "Hagel" which is pronounced "haggle."

She also had us write a word of our choice with the definition on the board. My favorite was written by a boy in class: "Perfume - A scent used to cover up a WORSER smell." It stayed up all week while we tried to ignore the controversial use of "worser." We knew the boy's mom taught high school English and was, just maybe, trying to start a controversy. We later found out that the word was indeed used in the 15th and 16th centuries and appeared in sonnets and plays by Shakespeare. Oh, for the good old days when that was the major topic of gossip in 7th grade English.

My mom had something in common with my teacher. They both loved tongue twisters. On our long car trips to and from Minnesota my family would recite twisters like: "Betty Brown made some butter. She made some bitter butter and better butter. She put the bitter butter with the better butter to make the bitter butter taste better." Or "The swan swam over the swells. Swim, swan, swim. The swan swam back over the swell. Well swum, swan."

We would repeat these twisters at an increasing speed until we gave up laughing at the mistakes. Twister contests often resulted in celebrating with ice cream.

Today my grandkids and I recite the tried-and-true tongue twisters on the way home from school like:

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy, was he?

I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream.

(Warning: say this slowly): I slit a sheet, a sheet I slit, upon a slitted sheet I sit.

Give it a try. And remember, if you twist your tongue to an uncomfortable extent, ice cream is an excellent remedy.


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