Borcester shots

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For those who are innocent of Massachusetts and UK toponyms, that's a joke about Worcester, pronounced /ˈwʊstə/.

In fact the stressed vowel in booster is /u/ (as in "mood") rather than /ʊ/ (as in "hood"), which still doesn't spoil Bob Shackleton's (emailed) joke:

So I guess if you're in favor of them, you're a "borcester borcester" ….

In case you're curious about the curious spelling, Wikipedia explains that

The form of the place name varied over time. At its settlement in the 7th century by the Angles of Mercia it was Weogorna. After centuries of warfare against the Vikings and Danelaw it had become a centre for the Anglo-Saxon army or here known as Weogorna ceastre (Worcester Camp) including Saxons Lode station. The Weorgoran were probably a sub-tribe of the larger kingdom of the Hwicce, which occupied present-day Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and western Wiltshire.


  1. Cervantes said,

    August 19, 2021 @ 12:12 pm

    I lived in Boston for 25 years, and actually some people do pronounce with an oo as in moo. I would venture that's the immigrant as opposed to the indigenous pronunciation, and some people even pronounce the R — Worster. (My own pronunciation is somewhere in between.) The Red Sox minor league team just moved there from Pawtucket, where they had been known informally as the Pawsox; now they are called the Woosox, not the Wuhsox. So the joke basically works if you don't insist on being too authentic.

  2. Steve Jones said,

    August 19, 2021 @ 12:51 pm

    Cf. the limerick by the great Alan Watts

    There was a young fellow of Salisbury
    A notorious halisbury-scalisbury
    He went about Hampshire
    Without any pampshire
    Till the vicar compelled him to walisbury.

  3. Alexander Browne said,

    August 19, 2021 @ 1:56 pm

    If you can't figure out the above limerick, there are hints here:

  4. Diana Bloom said,

    August 19, 2021 @ 2:33 pm


  5. Francois Lang said,

    August 19, 2021 @ 7:10 pm

    @Alexander Browne

    That was very helpful. Thanks for the exegesis!

    No clue otherwise.

  6. Viseguy said,

    August 19, 2021 @ 7:14 pm

    Spent a memorable month in Worcester, MA, in the dead of winter, 1973, so appreciated the tweet. But the king of such pronunciation oddities, in my opinion, is Featherstonhaugh. You could call me a Featherstonhaugh fanboy.

  7. Chris said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 2:46 am

    Someone who adopted a child in Gloucester would presumably become a foucester parent.

  8. Alyssa said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 8:33 am

    The pronunciation of Worcester made a lot more sense to me once I realized I should be parsing it as Worce-ster instead of Wor-cester. That gets rid of the extra syllable, then you just have to make it non-rhotic and you get /ˈwʊstə/. Though I think most folks do retain the final "r".

  9. Michael Watts said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 9:11 am

    The pronunciation of Worcester made a lot more sense to me once I realized I should be parsing it as Worce-ster instead of Wor-cester.

    But… why would you parse it that way? The elements of the name are Wor and cester. Compare Gloucester / Lancaster / Leicester / Winchester / Dorchester / Manchester. They're all from the Roman designation castrum.

    I was a little surprised to see that Worcester is supposed to be pronounced /wʊstɚ/, since Worcestershire sauce uses /wɪstəʃɚ/

  10. Terry K. said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 9:41 am

    @Michael Watts. Pronunciations vary. Wiktionary gives 6 posibilities for Worchestershire sauce (with all the variation being in the Worcestershire part).

    /ˈwʊs.tɚ.ʃɚ ˈsɔːs/, /ˈwʊs.tɚ.ʃiɹ ˈsɔːs/, /ˈwʊs.tɚ.ʃaɪɚ ˈsɔːs/, /ˈwɪs.tɚ.ʃiɹ ˈsɔːs/, /ˈwɪs.tɚ.ʃaɪɚ ˈsɔːs/, /ˈwɝʃtəʃər ˈsɔːs/

  11. Terry K. said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 9:49 am

    I should have said 6 U.S. For the U.K. it has only: /ˈwʊstə(ɹ)ʃə(ɹ) ˈsɔːs/

  12. Robert Coren said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 10:11 am

    Speaking of Gloucester, MA (where I am currently located, as is the case every summer), people from "away" have a tendency to pronounce the first syllable as /ɑʊ/ (as in "cow", in case I've mangled the IPA). This is particularly amusing if you remember something I read once a long time ago, I know not where, namely that the name of the original English city used to be spelled "Glocester", and that the town powers decided to add a linguistically irrelevant "u" so the name of their town would have more letters than its rival Leicester.

    I've always pronounced "Worcester" with /ʊ/ rather than /u/, but I'm originally from New York City, so what do I know? (What's the correct vowel for Bertie Wooster?)

  13. Massachusetts Doggerelist said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 11:27 am

    A nubile high schooler from Worcester
    Was always a valiant team borcester.
    Some basketball players
    Drove down from Ayers
    And one of them nearly sedorcester.

    There was a young waitress in Gloucester
    Whose boyfriend abused her and boucester
    She fled him to Dedham
    In haste not to bed him
    He said, "YOU can't dump ME," and toucester.

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 1:33 pm

    Terry K — "For the U.K. it has only: /ˈwʊstə(ɹ)ʃə(ɹ) ˈsɔːs/". Then I respectfully suggest that it is wrong. The final syllable is /ʃɪə ǁ ʃɪər/, not /ʃə(ɹ)/.

  15. Alexander Browne said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 2:40 pm

    Robert Coren: In the Fry and Laurie TV series, it's /ʊ/. But when they visit New York, at least some of the American characters — played by Brits with kind of a NYC/Texas accent — use /u/.

  16. Rachael Churchill said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 4:11 pm

    @Philip Taylor, what do you mean? I'm British and I pronounce the -shire at the end of all UK counties (including Worcestershire) as a reduced "sher". I associate the "shy-er" pronunciation with American tourists.

  17. Terry K. said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 4:44 pm

    @Rachael Churchill, /ʃɪə ǁ ʃɪər/ in Phillip Taylor's post doesn't represent shy-er, which would be /ʃaɪə(ɹ)/. The ɪ in IPA represents the vowel of pin, or, for some, the end of happy.

  18. Andrew Usher said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 8:29 pm

    Or, more relevantly, /ɪə(r)/ in his IPA indicates the NEAR vowel, so he would say '-shire' like 'sheer'. This appears to be a recent English innovation, or so I've thought. I use the reduced vowel exclusively.

    On the topic, puns like that never appealed to me, especially if they're phonetically imperfect. A joke that need explanation is not a good joke, as common advice has it.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  19. Thomas Rees said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 8:47 pm

    OED has “Pronounced /-ʃə(r)/; in dialects often /-ʃɪə(r)/” Isn’t Philip Taylor from Cornwall?

  20. BobW said,

    August 20, 2021 @ 11:42 pm

    What's this here sauce?

  21. maidhc said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 3:11 am

    Thanks to Robert Coren for bringing in PJ Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster.

    Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,
    In a shower of rain;
    He stepped in a puddle,
    Right up to his middle,
    And never went there again.

  22. Rachael Churchill said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 4:29 am

    Terry and Andrew: Thanks – doh, I did know that but must have had a brainfart when reading Philip's post.
    Actually I can imagine my grandmother (born 1930s, South London, verging on Cockney) saying -sheer. I think Philip is also of that generation, IIRC, so maybe it used to be more common than it is now.

  23. Philip Taylor said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 9:42 am

    "Isn’t Philip Taylor from Cornwall ?". No. Currently "resident in", but from S. E. London / N. W. Kent.

  24. James Kabala said,

    August 21, 2021 @ 8:46 pm

    Robert Coren: The story sounds apocryphal, probably invented by someone who was not really aware of the tremendous variation in early modern spelling, and who also chose to ignore the fact that Gloucester and Leicester are not near each other and unlikely to be rivals. But it is nonetheless also true that Glocester, Rhode Island, lacks a u to this day.

  25. Robert Coren said,

    August 22, 2021 @ 10:08 am

    @James Kabala: I'll admit that I have always been slightly suspicious of this story, and yes, I know that the standardization of English spelling is a relatively recent phenomenon. (I have an idea, which I have not attempted to research, that Shakespeare, whose plays include a variety of Dukes and Earls of the place, spelled it "Glocester".)

  26. Andrew Usher said,

    August 24, 2021 @ 7:34 am

    I actually remember reading a page on that very subject, I think by David Crystal. He stated that Shakespeare used 'Gloucester', 'Glouster', and 'Gloster', but not the odd-looking 'Glocester'.

  27. Phil Jensen said,

    September 1, 2021 @ 4:23 pm

    The other rhyme sound in the limerick also requires explication. Hampshire in addresses written (and I suppose sometimes pronounced) "Hants".

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