Worcester as Wooster (pronunciation)

  • elpoderoso

    Senior Member
    English
    This occurs also in the place names Leicester (lester),Bicester (bister) and Gloucester (gloster) amongst others. It seems that people just dropped the vowel between the two S sounds.I'm no linguist so I hope you understand what I mean.
    There is also a town called Leominster which is pronounced ''lemster''.
     

    dihydrogen monoxide

    Senior Member
    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    I see what you mean, the explanation seems plausible. Could Americans pronoune it as Worsester, Glowsester and so on, because I've heard them pronounce -shire with a diphtong rather than schwa.
     
    Perhaps the most startling pronunciation of an English place name is Happisburgh in Norfolk, which is pronounced "Hazebruh".

    The reasons are generally that people's speech becomes sloppy, particularly when they are illiterate. The divergences between spelling and pronunciation occurred long before education became compulsory.
     
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    kitenok

    Senior Member
    Could Americans pronoune it as Worsester
    Americans who have spent time in or near the state of Massachusetts probably wouldn't do this. Masschusetts has a fairly large city called "Wooster" (spelled Worcester), a port called "Gloster" (spelled Gloucester) and a town called "Lester" (spelled Leicester).

    My father had an uncle called "Lester" (spelled Lester), which is not a terribly uncommon given name in the U.S. A highly literate census-taker in the 1880s decided to spell Uncle Lester's name "Leicester" in the census record that year.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    I'm from the south and have only been to New England once, and I've never been to regular England. If I saw Worcester, I'd be tempted to pronounce it like were + chester. :)

    If I had to venture a guess has to how it came to be pronounced Wooster, I'd probably say: Worcester = Worce (like the word worse) + ter, and the r simply dropped out, as r's often do: Wooster.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    A friend of mine told me a story about the origin of the name "Worcestershire sauce": On being served a Porter House Steak and this wonderful sauce, a Southern gentleman asked "Wut's 'is 'ere sauce?" Hence the name. :D

    My own theory is identical with Elponderoso's.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The reasons are generally that people's speech becomes sloppy, particularly when they are illiterate. The divergences between spelling and pronunciation occurred long before education became compulsory.
    There is no such thing as sloppy speech. All that happens is that writing fails to keep up with the spoken language.
     

    palomnik

    Senior Member
    English
    I see what you mean, the explanation seems plausible. Could Americans pronoune it as Worsester, Glowsester and so on, because I've heard them pronounce -shire with a diphtong rather than schwa.
    Sometimes the original British pronunciation survives in the USA, sometimes not. Beauchamp, South Carolina is duly pronounced "Beecham", whereas Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island is pronounced "Thaymz", not "Temz". You have to hear what the locals say before proceeding.

    As for strange pronunciations, I believe that some (particularly upper class, aristocratic) British surnames go even further in this sort of divergence than place names do.
     

    elpoderoso

    Senior Member
    English
    As for strange pronunciations, I believe that some (particularly upper class, aristocratic) British surnames go even further in this sort of divergence than place names do.
    The name Cholmondeley (chumly) immediately springs to mind.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Moderator note:

    Hello guys,

    while this is all quite interesting I'd ask you not to try and make a complete and unabridged list of odd pronunciations - because I think we all know that this really would ultimately be a very long list.

    Therefore I'd ask you to focus on:

    Worcester > Wor'ster - and other English -cester names.

    Thank you very much!
    sokol
    Moderator EHL
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Why is Worcester pronounced as Wooster?
    Don't you mean: Why do some people and places called /wʊstə/ (Wooster) sometimes irregularly spell their name Worcester? I suppose the answer is
    1) they spell it like they were taught to spell it, and sometimes
    2) they believe or imagine that the second syllable of the name reflects Latin castra.
     
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    I was taught at school that English place names ending -chester, -caster and -cester are derived from the Roman names of places where there were camps.

    However, I'm not so sure that the connection is as old as that. There are several such places that had different names in Roman times, such as Colchester (Camolodonum) and Leicester (Ratae Coritanorum). This link (as trivial as it may seem) gives other examples.

    I wonder whether the modern endings are from the late Dark Ages or even the medieval period rather than the Roman period itself? They may still accurately record the fact that there were Roman camps there, of course.

    I don't think the difference between the spelling and the pronunciation results from a deliberately false reconstruction, though. Pace Hulalessar, but sloppy speech occurs every day. As with coinage, the impure tends to drive out the pure, but at any time there are many who pronounce words clearly and many others who do not. I think these differences are the result of the elisions of unclear speech.
     
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    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I was taught at school that English place names ending -chester, -caster and -cester are derived from the Roman names of places where there were camps.
    You are right; I found this:
    Chester (Saxon), from the Latin castra, a camp. It occurs also as cester and caster, and in Wroxeter, Exeter, &e.

    The interesting thing here is: "chester" is given as "Saxon", so it was already a Saxon loan.
    Thus it would be easy to explain why some of those place names do not look like the old Latin one: these should be names given to those towns by the Saxons, with using their (Latin) loan of "chester".

    And as for the reason ... well: it might be as trivial as a simple deletion of a not-accented vowel - the first "e" in "c(h)ester". That's a common enough process; writing remained conservative but pronunciation changed.

    As for how Americans pronounce those place names - well, those living in regions where there are not many (if any) "-cester" names might just pronounce them like they would according to "general" rules for English (insofar as such exists - but we all know that there are some rules of thumb which one could follow - and which would give wrongly [sestə] for "-cester").

    So probably all this isn't such a mystery after all. :)
     

    ppaul562

    Member
    English - and the richness of her dialec
    A friend of mine told me a story about the origin of the name "Worcestershire sauce": On being served a Porter House Steak and this wonderful sauce, a Southern gentleman asked "Wut's 'is 'ere sauce?" Hence the name. :D
    In fact, Worcestershire sauce was invented in 1838 by two chemists John Lea and William Perrin and sold from their shop in (would you believe?) Worcester. They were trying to make a curry sauce at the time, but that is another story.
     
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    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    The interesting thing here is: "chester" is given as "Saxon", so it was already a Saxon loan.
    Thus it would be easy to explain why some of those place names do not look like the old Latin one: these should be names given to those towns by the Saxons, with using their (Latin) loan of "chester".
    It could also be that the names with those endings were indeed derived from Latin, but that their origin lies in popular place names which differed from the official, recorded names.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Pace Hulalessar, but sloppy speech occurs every day. As with coinage, the impure tends to drive out the pure, but at any time there are many who pronounce words clearly and many others who do not. I think these differences are the result of the elisions of unclear speech.
    So is "goodbye" sloppy speech for "God be with you"?

    Is French sloppy Latin? French is full of elisions and they are perfectly respectable!

    With respect, notions of purity and language do not go together. How far back do we have to go until we get to "pure" English?
     
    So is "goodbye" sloppy speech for "God be with you"?

    Is French sloppy Latin? French is full of elisions and they are perfectly respectable!

    With respect, notions of purity and language do not go together. How far back do we have to go until we get to "pure" English?
    Originally, yes, they were all sloppy speech.

    I wonder if you are looking on "sloppy" as a moral judgement. I am using it in the sense (which can be found in Collins English Dictionary), of "careless, untidy".

    These changes didn't occur because people deliberately set out to alter the pronunciation. They are the result of carelessness; of untidy usage. Therefore they are sloppy.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I would argue that language pronunciation changes are usually the result of striving to combine art, communication, and science into a unified whole.

    Adopting, such as importing -castra from Latin, involves adapting to the English system. But neither the Romans nor the English of the time had fully-developed, consistent systems of speech. Vowels were too complicated to write accurately, and the conservative "accent" (ad- + cantu(m), "singing unto") sometimes hindered communication rather than supporting it.

    When it comes down to dropping the vowel between the two s sounds of a word like Worcester, I see it like this:

    The vowel before the c was stressed, and important to communication, and the vowel after the s had some import too, even if only in supporting the consonant cluster /st/. But the two sibilants were distracting to communication and the vowel between them was not meaningful. Therefore, the vowel dropped out and the two sibilants became one. This was better art and better for communication, in short, more English than the form with the two sibilants with the weak vowel between.

    Of course, if I do not have my history straight, my theories (science) may be based on false principles. When history gets too much stranger than fiction, we get folk etymologies, etc.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Well, could we please leave that "sloppy speech" debate at rest? ;)
    (One could argue with natural phonology [scroll down] or explain such processes through phonotactics and/or isochrony, but we don't need to go there. :) That would be the "sloppy speech concept" described scientifically, but that would take longer to explain.)
    When it comes down to dropping the vowel between the two s sounds of a word like Worcester, I see it like this:

    The vowel before the c was stressed, and important to communication, and the vowel after the s had some import too, even if only in supporting the consonant cluster /st/. But the two sibilants were distracting to communication and the vowel between them was not meaningful. Therefore, the vowel dropped out and the two sibilants became one. This was better art and better for communication, in short, more English than the form with the two sibilants with the weak vowel between.
    Sorry, but phonological processes don't work like that.

    There is no phonotactic restraint in English against two sibilants in neighbouring syllables. Also I don't see how to delete the vowel would help the "arts", or how it would help with communication.
    (If anything communication is more difficult if vowels are deleted - or consonants, for that matter - as the distinctiveness of words shrinks; that would be the case only when, for example, phonological processes adapt words to the syllable structure - that would be phonotactics - or the accent/stress.)

    English is a stress-timed language, and in those vowel reduction processes (reduction or deletion of vowels which are not stressed) just is fairly common. The phonological process in itself thus is easy to explain: that's not the problem here. :)

    The real problem is wether those names go back to Latin "castra", or Saxon "chester" (in itself being a Latin loan), or yet another root, or different roots with different place names.
    Analogy also can play a role: for example it is thinkable that only a very small number of towns in England had that "-cester" name (and pronunciation) and that later the same ending was adopted for towns with similar (but not identical) endings which might go back to different roots.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I was referring to the art of speech. Sometimes we rework a sentence to avoid consecutive sibilants; at other times, for art's sake, we use phrases with lots of sibilants to create an effect. I don't think it was carelessness, but for a purpose, perhaps unconscious, perhaps not, that -castra became -chester and -cester (pronounced "ster"), and whatever Exeter used to be became Exeter.

    What did Exeter used to be? Eccester? Or was the earliest recorded form the modern one?

    Did the c in -cester originally sound like a k, a ch, or an s - or all three, depending on the preceding sound, local dialect, etc.?

    We don't really have an answer to the original question that does not involve more questions, but all the questions might help someone with access to old documents to know what to look for.

    Unfortunately most of us have only hearsay and secondhand information about history.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Did the c in -cester originally sound like a k, a ch, or an s
    The OE spelling ceaster rather than caester indicates palatalization already in OE.
    - or all three, depending on the preceding sound, local dialect, etc.?
    Probably. The spelling caester corresponding to a velar "c" existed too. In modern place names in the North you find the spelling and pronunciation caster, as in Doncaster and Lancaster.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Here is what the Oxford Dictionary of English Placenames says about Worcester (my comments in brackets):
    - First reference: 691 Weogorna civitas (civitas is Latin for city)
    - Then: 717 Wigranceastre (Old English ceastre, as discussed above, refers to a Roman camp).
    - Then: 1068 (Domesday Book) Wirecestre. (I suppose that this spelling is fairly close to the then pronunciation; but you can't be sure with the Domesday book whether the spelling reflects the pronunciation of the English natives or the Norman French compilers of the book. It seems, then, that the modern spelling reflects the way in which the name of the town was pronounced at that stage.)
    - Meaning 'Roman town of the Weogora tribe'. Weogora is a pre-English (i.e. from before about the fifth or sixth century when the English language first came to that part of Britain) folk name possibly from a Celtic river name meaning 'winding river'.

    The spelling caester corresponding to a velar "c" existed too. In modern place names in the North you find the spelling and pronunciation caster, as in Doncaster and Lancaster.
    And, of course, in some places (mainly in north-western England?) chester as in Chester and Manchester. A quick glance at a map suggests to me that in the Midlands (where Worcester is) s predominates (Cirencester, Towcester, Bicester, Leicester).

    I don't think it was carelessness, but for a purpose, perhaps unconscious, perhaps not, that -castra became -chester and -cester (pronounced "ster")
    I am not an expert in English historical linguistics, but the change from k to ch in English is a regular one affecting many common words, including child, cheap, church and cheese.

    I am not so sure about the change from k to s: this of course affected French (including Norman French and therefore English?); Berndf suggests it affected some words in English before the conquest too, but I can't think of any clear examples at the moment.

    Isn't it the case?
    It is the case, but my point is that the true etymology is irrelevant to the spelling: what matters to the spelling is what the writer thinks the etymology is. There are many examples of spelling being dictated by 'folk etymology'. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folk_etymology
     
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