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New England Dialect | How to Pronounce "Scallop"

New England Dialect | How to Pronounce “Scallop”
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Scallop ShellsReal 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.

When 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.

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7 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.

  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.

  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!

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