Daily Archives: July 14, 2009

oyster

Complete this sentence: “The world is my ___.” How about the phrase “cultured ____”? Ah, this word gives us a fair few pearls. It may sound a bit like waster but it’s not one (well, perhaps of money). Its object is a mollusc eaten in the raw, reputed to encourage other things done in the raw. It’s a funny word, though – it starts with that oy, so often followed by vey, and recalling oil and Brooklyn accents (eva hoid one?), and caps it with ster, like in lobster and mobster, huckster and spinster, youngster and punster… a sturdy, serviceable, often jokey-sounding agentive suffix… that you are not actually seeing in this word. Oh, no doubt the existence of the suffix influenced the current English form of this word, but the word is not attributing plaintiveness to its bivalve object. (They’re not very loquacious, anyway, oysters; ask them how they are and they clam up.) It comes to us from Latin ostrea, which in turn comes from Greek ostreon, which is related to the Greek root osteo, signifying bones. So, yes, it has a bone to pick, but in silence, with hoarse- – I mean horseradish. And perhaps it will get you to yes, and even to the second storey (where you will find toys and the rest). But if the oyster on the half-shell doesn’t make an impression, some may notice that other famous Oyster, the Rolex Oyster. That plus pearls and the world is your oyster – though if the oyster going down doesn’t make you queasy, your bank balance going down might.