Monday, August 16, 2010

"Please Pass the Worcestershire Sauce" - A Guide to Pronunciation

Last Sunday, one of my neighbors called me up.

"I found this recipe I want to try, but I don't have a couple of the ingredients. Do you have any Worcestershire sauce?"

Only she actually said "Wor-ses...Wor-ches...Wor-ses-cher-shy-er sauce."

"Worcestershire sauce?" I flawlessly responded. "Sure. Come on over and get it."

I've been listening to people trip over this word for nearly thirty years - as long as I've lived in the West. In Massachusetts, where I grew up, there is a city called Worcester, named after a place in England. Because we New Englanders grew up knowing how to pronounce this place-name, it's been a lot easier for us. We've always been able to just roll it off our tongues.

And you can, too, after completing this brief tutorial. It's time for everyone to learn how to pronounce the name of this common condiment.

The biggest mistake people make occurs in their division of the word into syllables, a natural technique we use when sounding out words. With this word, you have to think about it a little differently. It seems natural to divide it up like this: Wor-ces-ter-shire. But instead, you need to divide it like this: Worce-ster-shire.

Let's begin with the first syllable: Worce. The first thing you need to do in pronouncing this syllable is to drop the letter r. (Again, we New Englanders have had a leg up. We drop all kinds of r's. We also add them to the ends of words where they don't belong.)  Go ahead and try it. It should come out something like this: woos. (oo as in look) Try it again. Woos. There! Very good.

Next syllable. Pretty straight forward: ster. Just like it looks. Actually, in New England, we would drop off the r and say "stah." This won't be necessary.

Now try stringing the two syllables together: woos-ster. You'll notice that when you do, you have two s sounds in a row. Combine them into one. Wooster. It does not rhyme with rooster. Remember, oo as in look. Try it again. Wooster. Very good!

Final syllable: shire. We are not hobbits. We don't live in the Shire. Let's pronounce it like this: sheer. Good!

Now, try it all together: woostersheer. Excellent! Add the sauce and you've got it.

Worcestershire sauce.

I feel so much better. Now, call me up and ask to borrow some. I've got a whole bottle in my pantry.


  1. Our favorite Boston line when we returned from renting a car: "Y'need tah pahk y'cah in th'yahd."

  2. That was hilarious! It was like you were right here listening to me make all the same mistakes you told about as I tried to pronounce the different syllables (out loud!). I am SO glad to finally learn how to pronounce the name of one of my favorite condiments. Thank you very much!!

  3. My grandparents are from New Hampshire and my dad was born in Maine so I remember him always calling it "worstesher" sauce. When I grew up and bought it for recipes I started pronouncing it the way you described with all the syllables broken down and my sister recently corrected me with my dad's pronunciation. My dad's is closer to yours than mine but he still didn't have it exactly the same. Now I know it is actually "woostersheer"! Yeah, thank you Melinda!

  4. Okay...this word...such exasperation...I finally relegated myself to dubbing it "W" sauce. My mom said it wor-chest-er-shire. That never seemed right, but what did I know in California. My new husband gave me the worst time over that years ago. That's how I decide to go with my shortcut of "W" sauce. Over the years I figured out the first two syllables, but I was never sure if it was sure, sheer, or shire on that last thanks, Melinda.

  5. While you have it nearly correct, you have over complicated it.

    I am English. Born and bred. It is quite simply pronounced: "Wuss-ter" sauce.

    You pronounce "Shire" when you come from a Shire, such as Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire, Yorkshire or Lancashire....but you don't need to pronounce it on the sauce.

    Also, SHIRE is not pronounced "sheer" or "shy-er". It is correctly pronounced "shure"....with very little emphasis on the "r".

    1. I stand corrected. And by a true Brit. Thanks, Who-ever-you-are!