Tag Archives: Worcester

Don’t be misled or go awry

My latest article for The Week is about book words – words you’ve learned from a book without learning the pronunciation. We’ve all had them, and there’s no shame in it:

Don’t be misled or go awry with ‘book words’

And here’s my companion pronunciation tip video (also embedded in the article):

Pronunciation tip: N’Awlins, Worcestershire, and the “dropped R”

I filmed my latest pronunciation tip over several weeks, partly because it required some location shots that weren’t exactly walking distance and partly because reasons. It deals with something that comes up often with the names of certain places: If the “local” pronunciation “drops the R,” is that the true correct pronunciation? Also, what about when certain other letters of the name don’t get said?

(Just incidentally, this is also a little dig at certain dictionaries that give phonetic pronunciations as if they were phonological ones. I think every dictionary should have a trained phonologist on staff, or at least available freelance, as I am. 😀)

Proof that English spelling is an evil trap

My latest article for The Week looks at 10 words that are further evidence of the malicious character of English spelling. They look like they should be easy to pronounce, and many of us pronounce them as they look… but they’re really supposed to be pronounced quite differently:

10 words we’ve forgotten how to pronounce



I was in Boston for a word tasting event, and at the banquet I happened to find myself seated across from Jenna – a student from Tufts University – and her boyfriend, a “townie” from Medford, whose name I at first heard as Mack but realized on speaking further with him was Mark. Which should tell you a little something about his accent.

The table was well supplied with condiments. Mark reached for one bottle of dark liquid and said, “Wha’s dis heah sauce?”

“That’s right,” I said.


“Worcestershire sauce, just like you said.”

“Wh—” he turned the bottle and saw the label. “Oh, hey, like the town here in Mass. Wista.”

“Yeah, exactly the same. It’s named after a county in England – Worcestershire – which is named after the town that the city here in Massachusetts is named after. Only in England they say ‘Wooster’ rather than ‘Wister.'”

“I always sawta wondahed wheah that came from.”

“Yeah, originally from the name of a tribe that lived there – back when the Anglo-Saxons had tribes – called the Wigoran and from Old English ceaster, meaning ‘town,’ which in turn comes from Latin castra, meaning ‘fort’ or ‘camp.'” I pronounced ceaster in the Old English way, rather like “chester.” “So the town may have grown,” I observed, “but the name keeps shrinking.”

“I’ll say,” Jenna said. “My student loan forms have return envelopes addressed to WORC MA. Double-you oh ar see. That’s down to four letters.”

“Well, dat’s cuz yah gonna write a letta home sayin’, ‘I’m gonna have to work, ma, to pay this off.'” I began to see what Jenna liked about Mark. “Anyway,” he said, flipping the top open to sniff it, “I hope this sauce ain’t the worst for sure.” Jenna smiled. Hey! How come this guy found a girl who likes puns? When I was his age such girls didn’t exist.

He looked at the bottle again. “Hey, this’s got a spellin’ erra on it.”

“Naw,” I said. It was a bottle of Lea & Perrins. What were the odds of their misprinting their label?

“Yeah, it’s missin’ the H. Waw-chesta.”

“There isn’t an H,” I said. “No H after the C.”

“Oh, it’s spelled differently in England?”

“No, there’s no H in the town here in Massachusetts, either. I know everyone says there is, but there’s not. It’s on the maps and the street signs – where they get past the first four letters. No H.”

“Naw, yaw full of it. I grown up heah.”

“There are people who’ve grown up in Toronto who think Eglinton is spelled Eglington,” I said. “There’s no H.”

“But you said ‘chesta’! So you know theah’s an H!” he exclaimed.

“In Old English they spelled that just with a C before the E,” I said. “Though in the name of the town Chester in England, they did add the H.”

“Look,” said Mark, not smiling, “everyone knows: you say it ‘Wista,’ you spell it ‘Waw-chesta.'”

“I know. But they should say you spell it like ‘Wor-sester,” I replied.

I glanced at Jenna. I could see that she knew I was right, but she wasn’t going to say so. Her lips were pursed to keep it from getting out. She decided to try a diversion. “Can I see the bottle?”‘ She reached for it abruptly, but Mark wasn’t quite ready to let go of it. The resulting jerk sent a spurt of sauce across the table and onto my upper torso.

Mark laughed. “Theah, that’s proof!” he said. “You wore it on yaw chest an’ shirt!”

silly place name limericks

These limericks are all based on dual versions of well-known place names (well, except for one, which uses a disjunction between spelling and pronunciation). You read the one and say the other…

Thanks to Antonia Morton for inspiring me.

A lively young miss from Bombay
Sent a note to her beau to combay.
She said, “Have a look –
I’ve learned how to cook!”
But she burned him while making flumbai.

A man with a flat in Peking
Was forever inclined to reking.
“The bathtub is leijing!
The neighbours are beijing!
This place is all just gilded ceking!”

A teak cutter living in Myanmar
Came down with quite bad sclerodyanmar.
He found it a bon
To lie low in Yangon
Getting rubbed by a tart named Miss Yanmar.

Two newlyweds visited Ho Chi Minh City,
But the bride soon asked, “Where’s my go chi minh city?”
He was found with another.
Quoth she, “I’m gone to mother!
I just can’t let bo chi monh citys be bo chi minh city!”

A young lass who lived in Krung Thep
Went out one fine night for a wep.
She soon happened bhai
Her Thai sweetie-phai
And they stayed up until three o’clep.

A rude dude who visited Kalaallit Nunaat
Declared, “This is such an obsalallit nunaat!
Just come up to Godthab
And have a quick lodthab!
Next time I’ll just go to maralaallit nunaat!”

A Philly lass known to be fruylkill
Was taking a walk by the Schuylkill.
She picked up a dollow
Stashed away in a hollow –
Which she’d found through a map search on Guylkill.

A moocher who hung out in Báile Atha Cliath
Said “I surely don’t mean to be tràile atha cliath;
Begorrah, ’tis true,
I ate all your stew,
But I couldn’t just let it sit dàile atha cliath.”

Late addition: two more on pronunciation:

There once was a fellow from Worcester
Who had slept with a school-friend’s sorcester.
He explained to his mate,
“She’s so saucy and great,
Man, I’m sorry – I couldn’t resorcester!”

A jaunty young fellow from Cirencester
Saw a pretty lass and blew a kirencester,
But the poor silly fool
Was so gobsmacked with drool
That he just managed to spit and hirencester.