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Jul 2, 2011 05:09 AM

How do you pronounce "OYSTER"?

Watching the adorable John Besh, who was born in Meridian, Mississippi, and raised in south Louisiana, I heard him pronouncing "oyster" as "oyshter." (He was making this fried oyster salad: ).

I am from Florida, and I pronounce it "oy-ster."

How do you pronounce it, and where are you from? I would love to hear the different regional variations, not that there could be too many with a two-syllable word, I suppose.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word oyster comes to us thusly: ""oyster
mid-14c., from O.Fr. oistre (Fr. huître), from L. ostrea, pl. or fem. of ostreum "oyster," from Gk. ostreon, from PIE *ost- "bone" (see osseous). Related to Gk. ostrakon "hard shell" and to osteon "bone."
Why then the world's mine Oyster, which I, with sword will open. [Shakespeare, "The Merry Wives of Windsor," II.ii.2]""

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  1. Like you, I also pronounce the word as, "oy-ster".

    However, as a result of having spent my formative years in Hudson County, NJ, I can tell you that many old-timers in Jersey City pronounce it as "er-ster".

    Along similar lines, those same Jersey City folks pronounce the word, toilet as, "ter-let".
    "Voice" is sometimes pronounced as "verse" by these unique linguists.

    What is sometimes referred to as a "Brooklyn accent" is actually a Jersey City accent.

    Go figure!

    13 Replies
    1. re: Ted in Central NJ

      I always wondered about terlet! I had a friend who always pronounced it that way. I knew in context what she meant, but was pretty confused as to where it came from.

      Here on the West Coast, I've always heard it pronounced "oy-ster" also.

      1. re: Ted in Central NJ


        Thank you. While I spent a Summer in Cape May, I now know why the "bathroom" was seldom pointed out to me... [Grin]


        1. re: Ted in Central NJ

          Yeah, you're right. I know a guy called "pool" whose name is Paul from JC. it's unique. And I say OY-ster.

          1. re: WCchopper

            Now, back on the Gulf Coast, I knew a family of Pooles.Is that the same?


            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Ha- only if they said "Poole" and spelled "Paul" which I've never seen in the south, especially along the "Guff Coast". I love accents. They make life more fun.

              1. re: WCchopper

                That family pronounced their name "Pool," but then they could well have from "out of town," before they moved to The Coast?

                Being from Mississippi, and spending a great deal of time in New Orleans, and then marrying a lady from there - I enjoy accents too.


          2. re: Ted in Central NJ

            I do believe there are some neighborhoods in Brooklyn where the same pronunciations of "terlet" were common. Maybe a generation or two (or three) ago, those folks "migrated" across the river to "Joisey City" and brought their accents with them.

            1. re: CindyJ

              My FIL was Brooklyn born and raised & used "terlet" as well as one that always amuses me: spatchler. My then-boyfriend and I got into a disagreement over the actual spelling of said word - he was incredulous when I showed him S-P-A-T-U-L-A in the dictionary.

              (Now, I'm from Texas, where we pronounce most things fairly normally, unless it's a town or street name, in which case all bets are off.)

                1. re: shanagain

                  Town or street name? How about whole states? I have a friend whose wife is from deep east Texas, and she refers to Vermont's neighbor as "New Hamster".

              1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                I'm from Brooklyn, and my Italian Grandma, who came to Brooklyn as a child, called it a ter-let...
                And Oil was "earl"!

                I now live in JC, and have to listen out for the "unique linguists" LOL!!!

                (I never herad anyone call an oyster and oyshter!!)

                1. Count me in the OY-ster boat.

                  But I have heard Louis Armstrong calling them ER-sters in his rendition of Let's Call The Whole Thing Off with Ella, so I'm guessing a few other folks from New Orleans also call it an erster. :)

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: inaplasticcup

                    What a lot of people don't realize is there is a fairly large pocket of native people in New Orleans who have what is remarkably similar to a Brooklyn accent. Besh doesn't have it, but many do.

                    1. re: Leepa

                      Ah, the Brooklyn accent.

                      I do agree, and having grown up in those environs, would also typify the accent as closer to Brooklyn, than any spot in the Deep South - Hollywood's ideas out the window.

                      At one time, I could listen to a New Orleans woman's pronunciation, and likely hit her neighborhood within a few blocks. I am not so good anymore, but then I have been listening to Midwestern for too long.



                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        My (aforementioned Brooklynite) husband thought I was CRAZY when I mentioned that many of the people I talked to in Nola sounded like they were from NY!

                        1. re: shanagain

                          I hear much the same, though it depends on the neighborhood, where the person grew up.

                          Love to poke holes in Hollywood's portrayal of a NOLA accent. Few even come close, with often humorous results.

                          Though my wife is a native New Orleanian, she has not lived there for decades. One of the first things that people comment on, is that she does not sound like "Scarlett O'Hara," but then, why would she?

                          After she has visited her family, her speech pattern does change a bit, but I am probably the only one, who notices.


                    2. re: inaplasticcup

                      Everyone I know from back home (new orleans) calls them oyshters FWIW.

                      1. re: twyst

                        But remember that Mayor Maestri, hosting the famous luncheon for FDR at Antoine's, is supposed to have said "Howya like dem ersterz?" Most people I know who use that pronounciation do it as a joke or minor affection, such as still saying "banquette" for "sidewalk." Even "making groceries" is usualy self conscious today.

                        1. re: hazelhurst

                          Yes, there are many affectations on New Orleans pronunciations, like "Naw-leens" for New Orleans.

                          Maybe it was my Gulf Coast upbringing, but we always said, "New Or-lens," and even my wife, the native, says the same thing. "Naw-lens" is just not part of our speech, but maybe to some?


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            My husband is a native of New Orleans, as well. We have always said New Or-lens, and leave other pronunciations to those who don't know better (haha). And we say oysters like John Besh does, oyshters. Didn't know that until this minute.

                      2. re: inaplasticcup

                        Louis Armstrong sang the lyrics that way because they were written that way, by Ira Gershwin (a New Yorker, not a New Orleanian), in the 1930s. But I wonder how many people today still say "ersters."

                        1. re: BobB

                          Interesting! Thanks for that tidbit, Bob.

                          Seems so incongruous with the few New York accents I have heard, but most of the New Yorkers I've known or worked with were Manhattanite corporate types, so my exposure is limited.

                          1. re: BobB

                            I think Ira was just pressed for another way to say oysters and made it up for the song, kinda like Phil Collins Suss-Sussudio...

                            1. re: porker

                              Maybe. but I tend to doubt that. He could have chosen from any number of real examples, (you say turtle, I say toitle) why make something up? Besides, others below say they know people who still do say erster.

                              1. re: BobB

                                I was just kidding - imagining the great Ira Gershwin started the lyric "I say oyster, you say....HEY LEONORE! I CAN'T GET STARTED! WHATS 'NOTHER PRONOUNCIATION FOR OYSTER?"
                                "How should I know?"
                                "Shit...oyster...oyster....ahhh dammit, I'll just use 'erster'. Yeah, thats it, ERSTERS! Now I got rythm!"

                        2. Oy-ster. I'm British and, specifically, English.

                          I've never heard it pronounced differently in the English language

                          1. This is a tough one.

                            1. another oy-ster, this from a person raised in Washington DC.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: LulusMom

                                "Why then the world's mine Erster, which I, with sword will open." (The Merry Wives of Windsor," II.ii.2)

                                No, Shakespeare actually used "Oyster", but then he didn't have benefit of being from either Brooklyn or 'Joisey'. More's the pity.