Theophilus Thistle is a great coach for voice actors. No, he is not a person, but rather a tongue-twister. Such wordplay is an essential part of vocal training and particularly of warm-ups for voice talent.

We will examine this tongue-twister as well as some aspects related to voice over work. Later, we will establish a warm-up routine based around this famous tongue-twister. Eventually, we will suggest other tongue-twisters which may be used to the same effect.

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Theophilus Thistle

Theophilus Thistle is a famed tongue-twister. There are several versions to it. One such version reads like this:

Theophilus Thistle, the successful thistle sifter,

In sifting a sleeve full of un-sifted thistles,

Thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.

Now if Theophilus Thistle, the successful thistle sifter,

Thrust’s three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb,

Then success to the successful thistle sifter.

Yet another version of the Theophilus Thistle tongue-twister goes like this:

Theophilus Thistle, the Thistle Sifter

Sifted a sieve of unsifted thistles.

A sieve of unsifted thistles

Theophilus Thistle, the Thistle Sifter sifted.

If Theophilus Thistle, the Thistle Sifter

Sifted a sieve of unsifted thistles,

Where is the sieve of un-sifted thistles

Theophilus Thistle, the Thistle Sifter sifted?

Preliminary Definitions

Before building a warm-up routine around this tongue-twister we must begin by stating some basic definitions related to voice work.

Voice Acting

Voice acting is basically performing with one’s voice. Actors in theater, film or television use their whole body, face, and voice in rendering a performance. Voice actors, on the other hand, remain unseen, working on audio ads or radio and must perform exclusively with their voice.

theophilus thistle for voice actors

Voice Over

A voice over adds a voice to an existing content or material. There are many examples of voice over work such as: narration in a documentary, performing in a radio or audio advertisement, announcing the stops in a subway recording, narrating a trailer, voice acting in a video game or recording an audiobook. Even GPS voices and telephone voice prompts are examples of voice over work.

Voice Artist

A voice artist is the person who gives life to voice over work. They may be called voice actors, voice over performers or any other similar names.

Vocal Training

Vocal training is essential for voice talent. Tongue-twisters like Theophilus Thistle are but one component of it.

Such training may take place in an academy or formal setting. Alternatively, it may be done individually, by the voice performer, with the use of training books or YouTube videos. Joining a choir or community theater is very useful for such talent too.

It is crucial to understand, however, that voice acting is still acting. As such, training programs such as theater training are excellent avenues to master the skills needed to succeed in the profession.

Health & Safety

Before setting out to recite Theophilus Thistle in the manner that we propose here, voice artists must set a foundation of health & safety in the use of their voice. There are quite a few things that voice talent must learn to do and avoid with their voice:

  • Overusing the voice may be problematic. A voice artist must have proper rest. Also, sessions of voice over work must be limited; voice artists in video games, for example, have to go through grueling sessions which may be dangerous.
  • Not smoking and not taking drinks which are too cold or too hot, are basic safety precautions for any voice talent.
  • Proper breathing is an essential principle to be mastered. Good breathing technique alone goes a long way in protecting a voice from injury.

Voice is to be supported by deep breaths from the stomach, so to speak, and not from the throat alone. A nasal voice may sound whiny. A mouth voice generally lacks potency. A chest voice is better but a diaphragm voice is best.

Such a diaphragm voice is best developed by deep breathing and by practicing sounds like laughing and yawning, which come directly from the diaphragm.

Like with so many other things, practice makes perfect. Voice talent should not neglect this work, and should devote as much time as possible to it, acquiring the services of a voice coach if possible.


Theophilus Thistle and tongue twisters just like it are great for warming-up a voice. A warming-up routine is essential for voice talent, lest they risk injury. There are several ways to warm-up and prepare to do voice over work:

  • The quality of voice over work can be affected by incorrect posture. Moreover, it may be hazardous to the voice artist.

Consequently, if standing up, a voice artist must place both feet flat on the floor and keep straight shoulders and back. If sitting, the back must be kept off the chair, by sitting on the edge of the seat.

  • Drinking a warm liquid usually helps talent warm up their voice. Very hot or very cold drinks are to be avoided, however.
  • Scales are very useful when warming up.
  • Lip and tongue exercises may also help a voice artist achieve proper relaxation.

Theophilus Thistle as a Warm-Up Routine

After such warm-ups described above, a voice talent may start saying a tongue-twister, like Theophilus Thistle. There are several alternatives. (NB: We will be using the first version of Theophilus Thistle, exhibited at the beginning of this article).

A voice artist may thus begin by voicing the whole tongue-twister, all at once. Another possibility is to divide it into more comfortable chunks (A and B chunks) Thereafter, a voice artist may choose to say it in different variations.

(A chunk) Theophilus Thistle, the successful thistle sifter,

In sifting a sleeve full of un-sifted thistles,

Thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.

(B chunk) Now if Theophilus Thistle, the successful thistle sifter,

Thrust’s three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb,

Then success to the successful thistle sifter.

Normal Speed:

Reciting the tongue twister at normal speed may warm up the voice talent and teach important lessons. Indeed, voice talent will do well to learn that certain sounds place more stress on the voice ie: sounds such as “th”, particularly when it is followed by vowels like “i”.

Slow Speed:

After reciting at normal speed, a voice talent, may choose to recite the tongue-twister at a slow speed. Such recitation will teach the talent about the need to vocalize and enunciate properly.

Rapid Speed:

Tongue-twisters are meant to be recited at top speed. That is part of their allure. Voice talent who are warming up would do well to try it, provided that they have already recited at other speeds and thus are not placing their voice in any sort of excessive stress.


Once the voice has warmed up, a voice artist may attempt whispering Theophilus Thistle. Whispering is a particularly problematic thing for a voice artist. It carries risk of injury. A tongue-twister such as this one, whispered, will show voice talent the particular stress that such volume may place on them. Regardless, prudence is a must when attempting such warm-up.


Finally, a warm-up routine may very well be complete with a round of good ol’ screamin’. Like whispering, screaming is risky for voice artists. A tongue-twister such as Theophilus Thistle can teach a talent about these risks, in a controlled fashion. As with whispering, this should be done with extreme caution. One read-through of the tongue-twister will suffice. Also, a high volume, though not extreme, is enough.

theophilus thistle and voice acting

More on Tongue-Twisters for Warming Up

A tongue-twister such as Theophilus Thistle, is essentially a phrase or group of phrases that are difficult to articulate.

An ‘announcer’s test’ is similar to a tongue-twister. The idea of such a test is to test aspiring radio announcers and measure their capacity for retention, memory, diction and pronunciation, amongst other things.

Consider this extract from such an ‘announcer’s test’ in early American radio:

Penelope Cholmondely raised her azure eyes from the crabbed scenario. She meandered among the congeries of her memoirs. There was the Kinetic Algernon, a choleric artificer of icons and triptychs, who wanted to write a trilogy. For years she had stifled her risibilities with dour moods. His asthma caused him to sough like the zephyrs among the tamarack.

‘Announcer’s tests’ may also be used in any warming up routing for voice over work.

Other Tongue-Twisters

Apart from Theophilus Thistle, there are other tongue-twisters worth exploring. Some of them are very short and others are much longer. Some tongue-twisters have a clear author, and others have origins which are unknown. Here are some examples:

Short Tongue-Twisters

Described by some as the shortest tongue-twister in the world, check out this one:

The seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us.

Tongue-Twisters / Songs

How about this tongue-twister written by Carolyn Wells, as a song, and later included in a children’s collection?

Betty Botter bought a bit of butter;

“But,” she said, “this butter’s bitter!

If I put it in my batter

It will make my batter bitter.

But a bit o’ better butter

Will make my batter better.”

Then she bought a bit o’ butter

Better than the bitter butter,

Made her bitter batter better.

So ’twas better Betty Botter

Bought a bit o’ better butter.

Legendary Tongue-Twisters

Although Theophilus Thistle and the two examples above are well-known, there are some tongue-twisters which are extremely famous. This tongue-twister, for instance:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
He would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck
if a woodchuck would chuck wood.

In a Nutshell

Tongue-twisters such as Theophilus Thistle are a good way to warm up for voice performances.

Before attempting such a warm-up routine, however, talent must learn the basics of voice health & safety. Such basics include: avoiding the overuse of their voice and learning excellent breathing technique.

Crucially, it is necessary to understand that things such as whispering and screaming carry great risks. Whispering or screaming the Theophilus Thistle tongue-twister may teach a voice artist about such stresses, in a more controlled and limited fashion. Regardless, even such limited attempts, should be practiced with prudence. Breaking up the tongue-twister into tiny chunks may be best. Also, a high volume is enough; an extreme volume is not needed.

There are more tongue-twisters which may be used in a warm-up routine. Announcer’s tests are similar to these and useful too when warming up the voice.