Posted by: episystechpubs | March 20, 2018

Editor’s Corner: An American in Worcestershire

I was at a party recently, and some of my British friends were joking about the difficulty Americans have pronouncing the word Worcestershire (like the sauce that was first made in the English county of the same name). Our mistake is that we tend to sound out every syllable Wor-ces-ter-shire. The correct pronunciation, however, is Woos-tuh-sher or Woos-ter-sher, depending on how strongly you pronounce your Rs.

The same pronunciation rule holds true for the names of some other English counties, like Leicestershire (pronounced Lester-sher) and Gloucestershire (pronounced Glah-ster-sher), which respectively include the cities of Leicester (Lester) and Gloucester (Glah-ster).

So, how did we get from Wor-ces-ter-shire to Woos-tuh-sher? A few things are going on. The first thing is something called vowel reduction, which is a softened vowel sound (for example sher instead of shire).

The second thing is something called haplology, which is the dropping of an entire syllable. That’s how we lose the “ces” syllable in Wor-ces-ter-shire and Glou-ces-ter-shire. Syllables that sound similar to an adjacent syllable are often dropped. We do this in American English, too, with words like probably (often pronounced pro-bly) and February (usually pronounced Feb-u-ary). Haplology occurs with a lot of adverbs and adjectives that end in le, such as gentle/gently and able/ably.

If the subject of Worcestershire sauce does come up in real life, I advise you not to look at or think about the spelling on the bottle. It’ll only mess you up. Just try to remember to call it Woos-tuh-sher sauce. Let’s not give the Brits any more ammunition.

And if you have about four minutes. You might enjoy this video of Rusty Ward, from the web series Science Friction, mispronouncing British place names. It’s funnier than it sounds, I promise. I cried.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

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