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  Rick Sutcliffe

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You can say that again.

Have you ever noticed that some words or letters can easily repeat themselves in English (stutter). I recall a few years back when Martin Gardner wrote for Scientific American he mentioned that "bookkeeper" stuttered more than any other English word. A fan wrote to nominate an incompetent one of these, namely "boobbookkeeper". Not to be outdone, another reader wrote the following month to suggest this person's assistant would stutter even more. To the best of my knowledge, no one has matched or beaten "subboobbookkeeper" since that time.


Words may stutter too, if used just in the right way. Here are several examples that are more substantial than My, my Oh, oh (two from Hansard) or very, very: (No one should ever, ever write the latter.)


Why did the duck duck?

He had had a difficult time.

Watch the well well well up.

It was a fair fair, fair lady.

Is this love, love?

The left left Lefty dazed.

Did the light light lightly?

Was John Little little?

Or is a disjunction and and is a conjunction but but is too.

Will Sue Sue sue Sue Sue soon? (apologies to Suzanne)


But I think the all time grand champion is the following sentence, which makes a good parsing exercise for the best of grammarians.

Did the editor know that, that that that that that that followed was redundant?

My original of the above sentence only had six repetitions of "that", but I later found another sentence with a "that" like the one before the comma, so I inflated mine.


I've been had: I've recently stumbled across several variations of:

Bilhad, whose parents surrogately had had had had had a rough time of it when she found out. I also have had (sic) offered to me by "Pat" the following: Jim, where Jane had had "had", had had "had had". "Had had" had had the Teacher's approval. Hmmm. I'm not sure that using a word and referring to one in quotes counts as a repetition, but it certainly is a stutter. If Jane morphs into someone like Sue Sue and becomes Had Had, things get much worse (or better, depending on your perspective.) Similar things can be done with "and" with combinations of uses and quoted references.


Repetition inflation can become a disease, for as some have observed, the three senses of "buffalo" (city of origin, baffle, oxen) can be used to create a never ending sentence with, if not strictly repetitions, at least near homographs.

Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo...

(One understands a "that" after each third word, although there are a variety of ways to parse repeated buffalos if you decide five or six suffice.)


Repetition of sounds is the basis of the so-called tongue twister, where you get someone to say something fast and listen to their mouth tie itself in a knot.


  • How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? As much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if if a woodchuck could chuck wood.
  • She sells sea shells by the sea shore.
  • Bill had a billboard. Bill also had a board bill. The board bill bored Bill so Bill sold the billboard to pay the board bill. After Bill sold the billboard to pay the board bill, the board bill no longer bored Bill.
  • The sixth sheik's sixth sheep's sick.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers? If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

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Links

Lois Walker's tongue twisters
Tongue Twisters A to Z
The Tongue Twister Database
Ralph's Tongue Twisters
Repeated.words
Homographs in the Same Sentence
Word Play Site
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Updated 2005 12 28