Quote: "..still insists he sees the ghosts."

Anybody know the source of “He beats his fists upon the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts?”

Googling gave huge number of totally goofy hits but no help.

Stephen King uses it in It, as “He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.” It’s supposed to be a speech therapy exercise the main character learned as a kid.

I have no idea if it is a preexisting exercise King used, or something King made up.

Amidst the mists and coldest frosts,
with stoutest wrists and loudest boasts,
he thrusts his fists against the posts
and still insists he sees the ghosts.

Like “she sells seashells by the seashore,” the origins of such a traditional tongue twister may be untraceab… it may be an untraceable traditional… such a tradaceable… to trace a traditional… um… I dunno.

It’s a speech/acting exercise. Stephen Colbert said it on “Fresh Air” and said it was an acting exercise used to improve enunciation.

He also said it on the first episode of his show. He and Stone Philips both read a number of those exercises as if they were serious news copy:

Oh what to do to die today at a minute or two to two
A thing distinctly hard to say yet harder still to do
For they’ll beat a tattoo at twenty to two
With a rattatta tattatta tattatta too
And the dragon will come when he hears the drum
At a minute or two 'til to today
At a minute or two to two.

It’s an old tongue twister. A teacher’s manual from 1915 has it.

Even older, a 1901 book, The Musical Basis of Verse: A Scientific Study of the Principles of Poetic Composition, says about the rhyme:

Well, I like it.

When Colbert does it, it’s slightly different.

Amidst the mists and fiercest frosts,
with barest wrists and stoutest boasts,
he thrusts his fists against the posts
and still insists [signature dramatic pause] he sees the ghosts.


"Amidst the mists and fiercest frosts,
With barest wrists, and stoutest boasts,
He thrusts his fists against the posts,
And STILL insists he sees the ghosts!

This poem takes on greater meaning when one knows the title–Problem drinkers in the last stages of alcoholism experience hallucinations.

Google Books gives me quite a few 19th century books where this is presented as an elocution exercise. The earliest is from 1843, but it looks like it was well known even then.

Now that I know it’s an old exercise, I recognize having Bill Denbrough use it for his stuttering is one of those nice touches King used to be good at.

The Beastie Boys used it in “Dropping Names”, along with a great Meters sample of “Hey Pocky Way” (part of B-Boy Bouillabaisse, from “Paul’s Boutique”.)

Just to let everyone know, this topic is about six years old.

I only ever knew these lines from Stephen King. They always haunted me when I thought of them. It’s cool to know that King drew them from something much earlier, and made them creepy!

King in particular got it from Curt Siodimak’s brilliant (and sadly forgotten) novel Donovan’s Brain. The “ur”-disembodied brain in a vat gains telepathic powers and tries to control the world-novel, it’s a masterpiece of creepy and suspenseful. King mentioned that he was hommaging it for IT in Danse Macabre, I think.

In Donovan’s Brain, the tongue twister is remembered by the victim of Donnovan’s brain and used to block the brain’s commands. IIRC, the victim actually learned it as a boy to help in with a lisp. So King may have tipped his hat there too.

In Brain, it goes

Amidst the mists and frozen frosts
he thrusts his fists against the posts
Yet still insists he sees the ghosts.

It makes a lot more sense for a lisper than a stutterer.

(Note, I haven’t read Donovan’s Brain since…geez…Jimmy Carter was still president when I read it…so…apologies if I’ve got the details wrong. I wanna reread it now. I wonder if it’s available as an ebook?)

Just wanted to add that we totally know the origin of that one.

The kvetcher comes to drop a bomb, he
Still insists this is a zombie.

The hero of Alfred Bester’s classic SF novel The Demolished Man uses a similar mantra to keep the Espers (telepaths) from reading his mind.

  • Eight, sir; seven, sir;
    Six, sir; five, sir;
    Four, sir; three, sir;
    two, sir; one!
    ‘Tenser,’ said the Tensor.
    ‘Tenser,’ said the Tensor.
    ‘Tension, apprehension,
    And dissension have begun.’*

Thank you all (particularly Fenris) for making an old man happy; I first read Siodmek’s ‘Donovan’s Brain’ as a sickly child who suffered from asthma and hay fever at the age of 9 or 10 I believe… I was blessed with a high IQ (U.S. govt test results seem to have settled down finally to a mean of 148, still open for discussion) but I couldn’t go out and play so I read books. Lots of books. Books about all kinds of things that were about as exciting as watching paint dry.
Then a friend (a suitor, I suspect, altho she was very married to my stepfather) took a liking to me and noticing that I was bright and eager to learn new things slipped me the book. I had never read any science fiction or horror stories before. My library was strictly confined to the contents of my maternal grandmother’s personal collection; Ivanhoe, Moby Dick, Homer (i had read the Odyssey by 12) and so forth. Even the Lone Ranger on TV was dismissed as ‘too violent’
Eventually I outgrew my physical sicknesses and went on to live a rewarding life. I have recently retired in a small central Texas town, and am trying to keep myself busy and not kill myself doing it.
Now the weird part… all my life, I have remembered that poem (actually an exercise for a lisp, as I remembered it, and recanted so well by Messr. Fenris) - but I remembered it slightly differently… “Amidst the mists and frozen frosts - He pounds his fists against the posts - And still insists he sees NO ghosts.” (emphasis mine)
At any rate I shall bow to the majority in the room and acccept Fenris’ account.
To be brief (yea, i know, too late) that book and its’ story contents changed my life in literally the evening it took me to read it. When my grandmother found out that I was ‘harboring illicit reading materials …’ she marched in and demanded I surrender all of the incriminating evidence forthwith; my response was, 'No." A new era was born. I still love to read sci fi (among other genres) which sadly is a habit most kids today do not take up.
Whew. Sorry for the wandering rant, I get lonely and gotta get my creative energy out whenever it shows up! Cheerio everyone, I hope this discussion forum is still active (I don’t think I’ve seen a post that was newer that 5-6 yrs old yet) but it wouldn’t be the first dead horse I’ve flogged.
Also, BTW, before the flames start smashing in, yea, I’ve got an IQ of 148, two engineering degrees, and a sailplane pilot’s license… but I can spell better when I can make out what I’m typing on the 55" HDTV thats all the way across the room. So if I misspelled something, what you gonna do about it?

Amazon claims to have it. Don’t bet the farm on it.