Peter Piper

There’s an old English tongue twister that goes as follows:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,

Where’s the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?

This poem has been around since the 18th century, and it’s probably the most famous tongue twister in the English language. It also lent its title to the American poem book “Peter Piper’s Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation.” Why don’t you try reading the poem yourself? If you can get through it all without messing it up, I’ll buy you a beer. But, back to the point. Who is this mysterious Peter Piper that is destined to pick peppers for the rest of time? Well, strangely enough, the man has a strong connection to Reunion Island.

Just up the hill from the town centre of Saint Joseph, you will find the local High School. As you enter, straight in front of you, is a bust of the man himself: Peter Pepper, or Pierre Poivre. Such a local folk-hero is he, that the town of Saint Joseph decided to name said High school after him: Lycée Pierre Poivre.

So, who was Peter Pepper? Well, he was a French author and horticulturist. Not at the same time though, as he only had one arm. In his heyday he was administrator of both Reunion and Mauritius, this was in the 1760s. During this time he was responsible for the construction of botanical gardens on both islands. In fact, his botanical garden of grapefruits is still thriving in Mauritius to this day.

When the trade in the Indian Ocean was controlled by the Dutch, he had to come up with clandestine methods of smuggling herbs and plants around the area. In fact, he introduced clove and nutmeg to Reunion during this time. Cheeky fella.

He lost his arm in the way that most people lost their arms in the 18th century, it was smashed by an English cannonball and his arm had to be amputated. Perhaps that’s why the poor Peter Piper can only manage one peck of pickled peppers in his poem. The man authored two books, his first “Voyages of a Philosopher” was a favourite of Thomas Jefferson.

His story is an interesting one, and I’ll be on the lookout for any other tongue twister stars in our midst. So I’ll keep an eye on the sea shore for the lady selling sea shells, and that famous French hunter who knows how to hunt without his dog, you know the one!


tongue twister – un vire-langue
a peck – une unité de mesure obsolète
to lend – prêter
to mess something up – faire une erreur
hill – colline

high school – lycée
bust – sculpture
folk-hero – héros populaire
heyday – apogée
both – les deux

grapefruit – pamplemousse
to thrive – prospérer
trade – commerce
to smuggle – passer en contrebande
clove – clou de girofle

nutmeg – noix de muscade
cheeky – culotté
fella – type
on the lookout – à l’affût
midst – milieu

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