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New England Dialect | How to Pronounce "Scallop"

Yankee Plus Dec 2015


New England Dialect | How to Pronounce “Scallop”
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Real New Englanders know how to pronounce scallop and warn to be wary of people who say “skal-lup.” They’re from away and probably don’t know a sea scallop from a bay.

scallops-pronunciationWhen I wish to be told plainly where the New England mind stands in matters of taste, I turn to an ancient friend of mine, Janet Aaron, who, for the quarter century I have known her, has never equivocated and never doubted. She recalls picking bay scallops on Cape Cod as a girl and says dismissively, “The sea scallop is not even to be mentioned in the same breath as the bay scallop. It is the vulgar version of the scallop.”

She fixes me with a warning eye, “And beware the person who says ‘skal-lup’! They don ‘t know what they’ re talking about. They’re inlanders. It’s ‘skawl-up.’ ”

The scallop, or skawl-up, is the perfect repast for the dour months ahead. Bay scallops in particular achieve perfection during the cold months, when their meat is pumped with the sweetness of stored glycogen. The scallop’s graceful, fluted shell is the emblem of the Apostle St. James the Greater and of pilgrims in general, giving it religious associations, which, while not quite penitential, encourage the casuists among us to serve scallops as proper Lenten fare.

The two reigning scallops in New England waters are the large sea scallop, which is harvested year-round, and the smaller bay scallop — also called the Cape scallop when found in the salt ponds and near the shore of Cape Cod and nearby Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. The bay scallop is harvested only from November to March, chiefly to protect it while spawning.

My friend Janet’s parochial preference is echoed by New England food and travel writer Eleanor Early, who declared some 40 years ago: “Sea scallops are not really scallops at all. True scallops are found only in bays. They are the most delicate shellfish in the world, very small and very sweet.” This, of course, is half nonsense.

Sea scallops are scallops and very good to eat, particularly grilled — a treatment that the bay scallop can’t really stand up to. Nonetheless, the sea scallop, robust fellow though he may be, simply does not exercise the grip on the New England palate of the bay scallop.

Unfortunately, the bay scallop harvest has been declining every year, and the fishery could be on its last legs. Bays live only 18 months to two years (as opposed to the sea scallop’s maximum of 30 years), so the failure of one year’s class has devastating consequences. Furthermore, although both sea and bay scallops are sensitive to environmental disturbances, including variations in water salinity and temperature, the bay scallop inhabits shallow water and is susceptible to the added pollution of coastal development Some towns have intensified environmental regulations to protect the bay scallop fishery. Some have even released hatchery-raised scallop seed in their waters. But perhaps the most ambitious approach to the drastic decline of the bay scallop is the Taylor Scallop Farm in Nasketucket Bay off the coast of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Here, bay scallops are raised in special sea nets, ensuring a safe life.

The aquatic “farm” is an eerie sight: a watery metropolis in which peaceful avenues of bright blue buoys stretch over 52 acres. The buoys keep more than 120 long lines afloat, each secured at the other end by an ingenious anchor: salvaged railroad-car wheels, weighing almost half a ton apiece. Suspended from the lines are some 35,000 to 40,000 six-tiered nets, and in them you will find the ever-personable scallop. When a net is hauled out of the sea the privileged visitor may see the inhabitants clacking and chattering excitedly: 150 baby scallops expressing their views. They seem exhilarated and joyful — no doubt they are simply annoyed.

Back on land, after a brisk encounter with a scraper to remove barnacles and other hangers-on, dozens of spiffed-up adult scallops sit in a holding tank. Some chat amiably with their companions, while others seem more interested in the world outside, gazing up with a row of unblinking and attentive eyes. Occasionally, in a surge of ebullience or impatience, a maverick scallop spins off on a rambunctious, cartwheeling carouse.

The Taylor Scallop Company is allowed by law to sell scallops year-round, but the off-season scallops, though certainly good, do not match the cold-water harvest. Taylor Bays, as these scallops are known, are sold live in their shell and are intended to be eaten whole. They are sold in a number of fish markets and are well worth seeking out.

In cooking bay scallops, as in everything, Janet Aaron demands simplicity, directness, no frills. “Bay scallops stand on their own,” she announces. “Pat them dry. Fry them lightly in butter. A hot pan, but don’t brown them. A couple of minutes at most. Just until they are opaque. Serve them with lemon. Salt and pepper. That’s it.”

She pauses sternly. “Well,” she relents, “you may have a glass of dry white wine with them.”

Some people do more with their scallops. For example, scallops are excellent smoked. The delicacy of the flesh might make such treatment seem too brutal — and in the wrong hands it is — but there is at least one source of very good smoked scallops: Ducktrap River Fish Farm of Maine. This company cold-smokes scallops in oak and apple wood. They are wonderful in salads and may be kept two weeks in the refrigerator.


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15 Responses to New England Dialect | How to Pronounce “Scallop”

  1. Alex June 27, 2014 at 7:36 am #


  2. Victoria Brofman June 27, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    To say skal-lup is akin to putting TOMATOES in clam chowdah! Just not done in New England!!!!!

  3. ShaGold June 27, 2014 at 9:23 am #

    Don’t speak for all New Englanders. Like all dialect, it is regional. In southern RI, it is pronounced scall-up, not scawl-up.

    • Kenneth Tobin May 8, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

      That pronunciation is very regional,as New Englanders’ from different regions of New England have different pronunciations. You do not speak for us all on this one Yankee.

  4. Patrick June 27, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Real New Englander say skawl-up? Give me a break. This New Englander has been living here 48 years. My family goes back to the Mayflower, settled towns in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont, had family members who have fought in every war since the French and Indian, been farmers, factory workers, teachers, ministers, fisherman etc. I myself teach and preserve New England history as a profession. And I pronounce them scal-lup’s….

  5. Kathy June 27, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    I’m from New England and say skal lup……………… if it should be pronounced skawl lup it would be spelled scaulup

    • Bob June 28, 2014 at 7:05 am #

      Look at it this way: You get on the telephone and make a call.
      Put an s in front of it and you get scall
      Add the op scallop

      Your pronunciation is now correct.

    • Audrey Sukovich May 7, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

      Wall,ball,fall,hall, call…..scallop.

    • MaineGirl234978 October 2, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

      Does that theory also hold for all of the people who pronounce the word “aunt” as ANT?

  6. From New Bedford MA March 10, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    Born and grown up in New Bedford Ma. The CORRECT way to pronounce it is scallop. Just think how you pronounce all, call. Put a s in front of call and add an op at the end
    Of it . . . And you have the proper pronunciation!

  7. Becky Jane Dedrick May 7, 2015 at 4:34 pm #

    Does it matter as long as they are delicious!!!

  8. John May 7, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    i can understand both pronunciation but I am used to New Bedford’s

  9. Elizabeth May 7, 2015 at 8:22 pm #

    Scallop like dollop, not scallop like gallop.

  10. Cathy H May 7, 2015 at 8:27 pm #

    Born and raised n central CT, skal up. But I also pronounce a body of stored water as “rezz ahv wah” perhaps my Mom’s Brooklyn influence.

  11. Lauri May 9, 2015 at 8:08 am #

    I am from West Canaan, New Hampshire…and my family pronounces it…SCALL…UP…its generation generated…how we have heard it pronounced before us…towns within New England themselves….take for instance…two brothers who were raised in North Canaan together…one speaks with an old New England sound, whilst his brother does not…so many factors into play here…don’t you know!

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