Shrewsbury

The English town “Shrewsbury”. How do you say it? Some, like me, say it as “shrowes-bury”, to rhyme with “owes”. Others say “shroos-bury”, to rhyme with “shoes”?

This town’s name is quite interesting as it shows how the Norman’s mucked our speech up.

In the beginning, the town was “Scrobbesbyrig”.

The Normans couldn’t pronounce “scr-“, which was said more-or-less like the modern “shr”. So they spelt it, and said it, as “sr”. That also proved too hard for them, though, so they then changed it to “sar”. To make things worse, the sounds /n/, /l/, and /r/ often change their positions (“metathesis”) or swap for each other, hence Latin parabola but Spanish palabra and English palaver, or Spanish playa but Portuguese praia. Thus, Normanised “Saropesberie” became “Salopesberie” — and remember, the Old English form was “Scrobbesbyrig”! This is also why the shortening of the shire’s name, Shropshire, is “Salop.”

Lay folk carried on saying it as they always did. Throw in a few regular sound changes from the Middle Ages, such as b–>v–>u, and we got the modern pronunciations and spelling around 500 years ago.

Wow, did the Normans muck our speech up!

But what of the “right” way to say the town’s name: “Shrowesbury”, or “Shroosbury”? The simple answer is that both are right; enough folk say both to warrant both being considered right, and that includes folk who grew up in the town itself! But I reckon “Shrowesbury” might better represent the continuation of ancient “Scrobbesbyrig”, whereas “Shroosbury” looks to me like a spelling pronunciation based on the animal “shrew”. Look at the northern spelling pronunciations of “tong” (to rhyme with “long”) set against the southern pronunciation which rhymes with “young” and which represents a continuation of the original “tung” of Old English.

The moral of this tale is twofold. One, there isn’t always one right way of saying a word. Two, don’t get scribes who can’t speak the language to devise or modify a spelling system for it!

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.aeroengland.co.uk/shrewsbury.jpg

 

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