I am sure you think this blog entry is going to be about the twelve grapes that Spaniards gobble down with their cava when the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve. Well, you are wrong! It’s about tongue twisters. Go on! Try it! Say “Greek Grapes” several times, without stumbling or mispronouncing it. It is even harder than gulping down all those grapes.
We like tongue twisters in England. You may have heard some of them already. A famous one you may know is, “She sells sea shells by the sea shore”. What you may not know is that it was inspired by a real person who lived back in the nineteenth century. Her name was Mary Anning and she lived near the cliffs by the English Channel in Lyme Regis where her father, a poor cabinet maker, taught her how to identify different types of shells.
Mary would collect these and then make money selling her finds to tourists. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Wandering the unspoilt cliffs searching for ancient treasures… but something very exciting happened to Mary that would change her life and eventually associate her name forever with palaeontology. In 1811, her brother found a skull in a cliff, and ran to tell her. Mary dug down until she found what she thought was a crocodile, but what was really a fossilised dinosaur skeleton. Can you imagine how wonderful? She later found numerous other fossils of prehistoric fish and dinosaurs and did a lot of dangerous work searching for new discoveries in the area’s Blue Lias cliffs.
Mary received little recognition during her lifetime because the world of science was still a ‘male’ domain, but in 2010, 163 years after she died, the Royal Society included her in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. I bet she would have been thrilled.
Another tongue twister that every schoolchild knows is “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper” but I bet they don’t know who Peter Piper or should I say “Pierre Poivre” really was. He was a Frenchman, pirate and horticulturalist once stole spices and seeds (all known as ‘peppers’ in those days) from spice shops. He would then grow these seeds and plants in his own garden and sell them cheaply to the hoi polloi. At the time spices were luxury goods and the spice trade companies, mostly Dutch-owned businesses, kept supplies low to ensure that prices stayed high. Not only did Monsieur Poivre make spices more available and affordable, he was also partly responsible for introducing cloves and nutmegs in his own spice company and garden.
There you go… you learn something new every day, don’t you?