The Tongue Twisted Goat


Mountain goat, Proto-Elamite; Susa, Iran; Around 3100-2900 BCE

“Sopra la panca la capra campa, sotto la panca la capra crepa.”

That’s an Italian tongue twister which my father used to say to me as though proffering some mysterious piece of wisdom. He did not tell me that it was a tongue twister, instead he left it hanging in the air between us, giving me the impression that I was supposed to understand its meaning and be enlightened by it.

It loosely translates to – Over the bench the goat lives, under the bench the goat dies.

He used it often and it always left me perplexed. I could never get the order of the words right in my head, and was never sure if the goat died under or over the bench. And why was this goat messing with a bench? Why crawl under it if it was going to die? And did it get stuck, was that why it died? Or are benches to goats what flames are to moths.

I still have no idea what this means, but now that I know it is a tongue twister, it really doesn’t mean anything other than a way to tie the tongue in knots or be chuffed to bits because you said it and succeeded, even if it was only once.

But what did it mean to my father and why did he say it to me so often?

If I could remember what prompted him to use it, perhaps I could see a pattern. Mind you, with him… the pattern was the same, he enjoyed confusing people as it enabled him to gain an advantage over them and use that advantage to get what he wanted.

I’ve never liked tongue twisters, except for a soft spot for that woodchuck and his hypothetical quandary, because they don’t just twist the tongue, they twist the brain too and since I have dyslexia… you’d think something which is pre-twisted when it goes into a brain prone to twisting, that the twisted thing would become untwisted…

So, do you like or dislike tongue twisters? If yes, what is your favourite one and can you say it more than once without tripping over the tongue?