Many languages have well established "tongue-twisters" (phrases difficult to articulate). In my native Spanish, "classic" examples are

Pedro Pablo Pinto Pérez Pereira, pobre pintor portugués, pinta paisajes por poca plata, para poder pasear por París.

Un otorrinolaringólogo se otorrinolaringolizó. Aquel que lo desotorrinolaringolice buen desotorrinolaringolizador será.

Are there examples of "native" tongue-twisters in Latin? By native I mean developed within a "indigenous" Latin language context (Classical, Medieval, ...) and not by "modern" linguistics or Latin teachers. The wikipedia article makes no mention of the history of tongue-twisters. I bet there must be one based on a lot of qui quo quot quia ... type of words.

It must be interesting to know particularly of cases that were understood as tongue-twisters at their time, rather than merely phrases that are evidently, for us at least, complicated to articulate, and thus "look like" tongue-twisters.

  • 3
    I don't think this really counts – it's more a case of something that's just highly alliterative/assonant than something that's difficult to articulate – but the first thing that came to my mind was the following fragment that I've always loved from Ennius's Annales: o Tite tute Tati tibi tanta tyranne tulisti.
    – cnread
    May 19, 2020 at 19:19
  • 2
    Not on topic, but I can't resist saying: Years ago, I came across the following in a book of tongue-twisters: El otorrinolaringólogo de Parangaricutirimicuaro / Quiere se desotorrinolaringólogoparangaricutirimicuarizar / Porque si no se desotorrinolaringólogoparangaricutirimicuarizara / Lo van a desotorrinolaringólogoparangaricutirimicuarizar.
    – Colin Fine
    May 20, 2020 at 23:11

3 Answers 3


Quintus Ennius loved alliteration and produced a few verses, which he probably did not intend as tongue-twisters, but which might be called that:

  • O Tite tute Tati, tibi tanta, tyranne, tulisti.
  • Mater optumatum multo mulier melior mulierum.
  • Stultust qui cupita cupiens cupienter cupit.
  • Quicquam quisquam cuiquam, quod conveniat, neget?
  • Machina multa minax minitatur maxima muris.

I collected these from various 19th century authors I found on Google Books. Finding proper citations for Ennius is somewhat out of my league, as most of his work seems to have survived only in small fragments (for example, the second one was quoted by Cicero in De Divinatione 1, 66).

  • 1
    Very nice list. I was going to comb though my copy of Ennius's fragments later to look for more, but you've saved me the trouble.
    – cnread
    May 19, 2020 at 21:54

Two more:

In mari meri miri mori muri accidit.

In a sea of delightful wine, a mouse happened to die.

which may have no particular author, and a 14th century one from a headstone of the Church of San Procolo in Bologna, Italy:

Si procul a Proculo Proculi campana fuisset, nunc procul a Proculo Proculus ipse foret.

If the bell of [the Church of Saint] Proculus had been far from Proculus [maybe the bell ringer, or a university student living in the convent], now Proculus himself [buried inside the church, after the bell fell on his head] would be far from Proculus [the saint, also buried there].

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  • 3
    The first one is amazing!
    – luchonacho
    May 22, 2020 at 14:35
  • 6
    The second one is an elegiac couplet. That's twisting your tongue in style.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 22, 2020 at 14:40
  • @JoonasIlmavirta: Haha wow, I hadn't noticed! Nice catch. May 22, 2020 at 14:47
  • Not to mention Proclus getting his bell rung in style.
    – C Monsour
    May 23, 2020 at 15:47
  • @CMonsour: Literally ba dum tss. May 23, 2020 at 16:47

It occurred to me that some of Cicero's poetry is in a similar stylistic vein to Ennius's, and a very quick review of the extant fragments did turn up a few isolated lines that, if not actual tongue-twisters, come pretty close:

aetheris aeterni saepta atque inclusa cavernis [From book 2 of De consolatu suo]

nunc ea, Torquato quae quondam et consule Cotta [ibid.]

And especially:

lustrasti et laeto mactasti lacte Latinas [ibid.]

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