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!”