Tongue twisters are probably just a tiny bit younger than language itself, but possibly slightly older than the pun. English tongue twisters are not only jokes, they have been used to practice elocution for hundreds of years. Some of the tongue twisters we know today go back centuries, but others are contemporary enough to have a well-documented story.
Maybe the best-known one-word tongue twister, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious isn’t short on complicated back story. Most people associate the mouthful of a nonsense word with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke dancing with cartoons from the 1964 movie adaptation of P.L. Travers’s book series Mary Poppins.
But according to songwriters Barney Young and Gloria Parker, they’d used the word first (or a slight variation on it, supercalafajalistickespeealadojus) in their song, which was also known as “The Super Song.” So when Disney came out with their song, written by Robert and Richard Sherman, Young and Parker took them to court for copyright infringement. The Shermans claimed they’d learned the funny word at camp as children in the ’30s. Young and Parker said Young had made up the word as a kid in 1921 and the pair had sent their song to Disney in 1951. They sued for $12 million.
Read how that lawsuit turned out and the origins of other tongue twisters at Mental Floss.