Saturday, 10 May 2008


The syllables slip easily into street slang around the world:

- Oy-stir!
- Oi-star!
- O-stir!

On the web there is an erudite discussion as to how the diarist Samuel Pepys pronounced the word in the 1660s. He mentions oysters no less than 68 times in the nine volumes of his diaries. The favoured thinking is the more effete:

- Eye-ster!

Chaucer had it rhyme with cloisters. In Maryland, it was

- Arse-ters!

In French, huitres can becomes a shrill vernacular

- Wheatres!

Like the call of a seagull.

Frederic S. Cozzens writing in New York in 1880 in Sayings Wise and Otherwise speculated: “We have ostreum from the Latins, oester from the Saxons, auster from the Teutons, ostra from the Spaniards, and huitre from the French — words evidently of common origin — threads spun from the same distaff …And hence we reason that it originated in Britain, was latinized by the Romans, replevined by the Saxons, corrupted by the Teutons and finally barbecued by the French”.

He was only partly right. The word is older than that from the Greek.

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