Speaking in Tongues

The morning of January 12th, 2020, began as a regular day for surfer Wynand Brouwer, who spent the morning in the water at Milnerton Lighthouse, in Cape Town. Just a few hours later, Brouwer was admitted to the Groote Schuur Hospital, reporting symptoms of slurred speech and an itchy, pins and needles sensation in his tongue.

Although there has been a great deal of debate over the events that followed, the one thing that all authorities can seem to agree on is that Wynand Brouwer was the first case. What happened in the hours after his arrival at Groote Schuur Hospital would change the world forever.

In a matter of hours Brouwer had lost the ability to control his tongue, and subsequently, his speech.  Doctors’ reports state that at approximately 11pm his tongue fell away, revealing the segmented exoskeleton of an insect – white, and semi-translucent – that appeared to have taken the tongue’s place. It was ascertained that this must be a relative of the cymothoa exigua, or Tongue-eating Louse; an isopod that had previously been known to marine scientists for replacing the tongues of certain fish, including species of snapper, and most famously, a trio of clownfish – the subject of a photograph that won the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.

This was the first time the parasite had ever been seen in humans.

As we now know, Brouwer’s story went viral, spreading almost as quickly as the ‘condition’ itself. Cases were reported around the world, from Asia to Australia, to Europe and the Americas, even Iceland. In a matter of months, there were millions of documented cases of ‘Tongue Bug’, or ‘Tug’ occupation.

While it rapidly became clear that there was no treatment for Tug occupation, it appeared that once the Tug was in place, the hosts were almost immediately able to use the louse as a substitute tongue, suffering no further adverse effects. Even as scientists and doctors raced to solve the mystery, the world began to divide. Especially when the Tugs started to speak.

In the July of 2020, a podcaster by the name of Jim Roidon revealed that he had intentionally become the host of a Tug – marking himself as one of the leaders of the ‘Pro-Tug’ movement. Via a live webcast, he opened his mouth and allowed his Tug, nicknamed ‘Tonguey’ – an apparent throwback to the 2002 Kung Fu parody, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist – to guest host the stream with him. Tonguey proceeded to charm Roidon’s audience with a surprising Welsh accent, and a taste for toilet humour.

At the same time, division continued. Fuelled by the internet, the growing ‘Cult of Tongue’ faced increasing resistance from a community of ‘closed lippers’, who espoused the purity of a human tongue, casting out those who had become Tug hosts. As extremism on both sides increased, so did the number and intensity of clashes, with widespread violence breaking out in major cities around the world. As each country attempted to control the spread of the Tugs, some states moved to acknowledge the rights and sentience of the Tug, while others took a more nationalistic approach, limiting transit, and – in some extreme cases – deporting hosts who made their status known openly. The Australian island state of Tasmania soon became a dedicated Tug/Host community, with the mainland having taken a decidedly exclusionist approach to the crisis.

These revelations resulted in a fresh wave of commentary as it became clear that the Tugs were, by nature, truth tellers. So, it came to be known as ‘speaking in tongues’ when one’s Tug spoke out of turn and confessed the host’s deepest, darkest secrets to the world. In some circles it became a rite of passage; again, Jim Roidon was happy to lead the charge here, with Tonguey announcing his host’s ketamine addiction to his listeners, a confession that in turn increased Roidon’s ratings among all of his key demographics.

Meanwhile, world leaders and celebrities found themselves faced with a reckoning, as their own Tugs started sharing secrets, and began to build their own public profiles. Soon, Tug celebrities such as Alpha Tongue, Tonguey and Maurie were joined by: Tonsaldo, the companion of a famous football player; The Tuginator, who resided in the mouth of an action hero turned politician; and ‘James’, who famously spouted forth a cadre of state secrets from the director of MI6’s not-so-sealed lips.

With the ‘speaking in tongues’ phenomenon decidedly beyond human control, and ever-increasing numbers of tongue occupation, more states attempted to develop hard-line approaches to Tug occupation, closing their borders, and placing bans on all swimming and ocean agriculture.

The dominos really began to fall in September of 2021, when a bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives moving to grant civil rights and personhood to ‘the Tug’. Many believe that the bill was in fact introduced by a Tug occupying the mouth of a US congresswoman; but this was impossible to prove, as the Tug in question had become very good at mimicking its host’s voice. The bill passed with a chorus of differently accented ‘Ayes’, and set the road for today, in 2024, as we find ourselves on the eve of an election whose outcome will markedly affect the new world order.

If current polls are to believed, tomorrow will see a landslide victory for ‘Donald Tongue’, who will be the United States’ first Tug president, or ‘Commander in Cheek’. The campaign has been controversial, as many have suggested this is actually a ‘re-election’ campaign for a previously sitting president, an argument that has been countered by supporters who say that while the host previously held the office, this would be Donald Tongue’s first term in office. It has also run on an entirely different platform to its host’s previous rhetoric of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative truth’, focusing instead on a 100% fact platform, that saw it go so far as to read out its host’s long sought-after tax returns, and phone transcripts from his first presidential term. Questions now exist as to whether Donald Tongue will be able to perform its presidential duties if it is anchored to an incarcerated host, however this has not damaged his lead in the polls. The assumption seems to be that if elected, it will offer a presidential pardon.

While we have seen similar elections in other states, this would mark the first non-human ‘Leader of the Free World’, and indeed, a shift to majority Tug governance on a global scale. What this will mean remains unclear, with some anti-tug activists suggesting that we may see forced integration policies, and some government and business analysts concerned that our entry into the post-post-truth era might see unprecedented economic and political instability.

Locally – in Australia, where we see a continuation of exclusionist policies surrounding the rights of the Tug – we appear set for an election like no other in 2025, following the recent revelation that our sitting Prime Minister, the honourable Maximillian Coal, has become host to a Tug. For the sake of transparency and solidarity with a post-post-truth style of reportage, this author has included the full transcript from Maximillian Coal’s interview with radio presenter Richard Crania, dated Thursday, October 31st, 2024.

Interviewer: Mr Prime Minister, as we understand it, the occupation of your mouth by the tongue-bug in question wasn’t of your own volition?

Coal: Yes, that is correct.

Interviewer: So, how did this take place.

Coal: Well, Richard. You see, I was in Sydney for—

Tongue-Bug: He went swimming!

[inaudible, mostly choking sounds.]

Interviewer: Ladies, and Gentlemen, our apologies. It seems we are now hearing from the Prime-Minister’s newly acquired tongue-bug companion, who has suggested the Prime Minister Maximilian Coal may have gone swimming in the ocean, in direct violation of his government’s aquatic regulations.

Coal: Ah well, you know how it goes Richard. I was down at Bondi, and honestly it was just too beaut a day not to get the budgie smugglers out. You know, I was at home the other day with Belinda and our girls, Rosie, Maddie and Allie.

Tongue-Bug: Seven! He has seven kids. He has a whole second family in Noosa … but he doesn’t talk about them.

Interviewer: Mr Prime Minister, is there any way you can control that thing in your mouth.

Coal: Uh, it appears to be a bit of a Chatty Cathy, doesn’t it?

Tongue Bug: Cathy? My name’s Harold. And I’ll have you know I’m the duly appointed ‘Minister for Banter’.  I’m here to tell the people what they really need to hear.

Interviewer [flustered]: Right, so, Mr Prime Minister, given your hard-line policies in the past, does that mean you’ll be removing yourself from office and relocating to Tasmania?

Coal: You see Richard, I’ve had the opportunity to consider the best course of action from here. And I do believe that even with this unfortunate turn of events, I will still be able to fulfil the office and duties of the Prime Minister.

Harold – Minister for Banter: He says Tasmania is a [redacted] [redacted] and that he’d rather [redacted] a [redacted] than spend one day down there. He said Belinda tried to make him go once in the 90s for a holiday, but he convinced her they’d be better off in Noosa instead. That’s when he met Pauline and kicked off family number two. He says he’s gonna overturn that [redacted] Tasmania Policy at the next sitting.

Coal: I—

[inaudible, voices talking over one another]

Harold: Which is why I’d like to take this opportunity to announce my intention to run for the seat of Wentworth in the next federal election, with the newly formed T.R.U.T.H Party.

Interviewer [confused]: The Truth Party?

Harold – Minister for Banter: The Trust, Respect, and Unity for Tugs and Humans Party.

[Inaudible – outraged voices]

[Transmission goes off air]

The announcement of Harold, Minister for Banter’s candidacy, and its intention to run in the seat of Wentworth will mark the first time in Human-Tug history that we will have seen candidates from two parties – and in fact, two different species – running in opposition, while occupying the same body. As political strategists, analysts and legislators alike scramble to figure out what all of this means, one thing is clear from the interview announcement; 2025 is sure to be a year of incomprehensible speeches as candidates attempt to speak over one another, while attempting to share the same soapbox, podium or microphone. This is, of course, not that different from previous electoral processes, given the track-record of political campaigns and leadership debates in this country.

Tonight, as we wait for the results of the US election, and consider what the future holds for our own country, very little appears certain. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that an era of great change is upon us, which is, as we all know, something that we have historically thrived in managing.

This reporter, for one, welcomes our new guileless invertebrate overlords.

Seth Robinson is an award-winning writer, podcaster, producer, and emerging academic. He is the author of Welcome to Bellevue (2020) the first full-length novel in Grattan Street Press’s original fiction collection. His short fiction has been featured in publications such as ‘Everything All at Once’ (The Ultimo Prize Anthology), ‘Resilience’ (The Mascara Literary Review 15th anniversary collection), Aurealis Magazine, Kill Your Darlings, Meniscus, [untitled], Intermissions (the GSP Flash Fiction Anthology), and the University of Sydney Anthology, among others. You can find out more about Seth and his work at