Being a bit of a perfectionist, I find it hard to accept mistakes or wrong statements that seem to get repeated as though they were truths or lazily taken for granted. In this case, I’m being a stickler for spelling.

Let’s start with the word ‘ostreaphile’ which only seems to occur in American literature about oysters. There is even a website with that name. This is completely wrong for the simple reason that the compound word is made up of two words from the ancient Greek, namely a noun ostreon (oyster) and a noun philia (friendship) or adjective philos (loved). All known combinations ending in the English suffix -phile has an ‘o’ before the suffix, like necrophile, bibliophile or halophile. In fact, in English there is no other form in general use. And since the Greek is actually spelt ostreON, then its compound is obviously ostreophile. Now from where the word ‘ostreaphile’ is derived, one can only guess that someone maybe mixed up the Latin word ostreum (of which the plural is ostrea) with its Greek precedent or was just simply guessing. Anyway, grammatically and linguistically, the word should be ostreophile. But ‘ostreaphile’ seems to have become so common in American texts that it will be hard to change that. But it is based on an unfortunate ignorance of the etymology of the words, which is not uncommon, dare I say it, on the western seaboard of the Atlantic.

As a curious footnote to this, the founder of French aquaculture, Victor Coste, whose work on saving the oyster beds in France during the 1860’s ushered in a new era in oyster farming, minted his own word for oyster cultivation, calling it ostréoculture. But soon after he died, it got changed in the Littré dictionary when it first appeared in 1877, as it was spelt ostréiculture!

Okay, let’s move on to my other gripe, the word, which ALSO only seems to occur in American literature – ‘merroir’. It is an attempt to transfer the accepted concept of the French terroir, which has long been used to explain the varying tastes of, for example, wine, olive oil, tea and cheese, to a marine environment, which is fair enough. No complaints so far, at all. But, for Christ’s sake, the word for earth in French is terre and the French for sea is mer not ‘merr’, both originating from the Latin terra and mare! The simple suffix, which is used a lot in French is -oir(e), often denoting a special place, building or instrument (like dortoir, laboratoire or miroir) has its equivalent in English -ory – eg, territory, dormitory or accessory, and both suffixes are derived from the Latin –orium). It was a common way in New Latin of identifying, especially, a place, building or rooms inside with its particular function. For instance the vomitorium in a Roman amphitheatre was not a place to throw up in but an exit passageway to enable people to leave quickly.

There is absolutely no reason whatever to add an extra ‘r’, so grammatically and etymologically it is obvious that the word should be spelt meroir.

In this sense, the concept of meroir recognises the existence of specific and unique properties and functions of a certain area of the sea (various aspects of the water column as well as the topography of the sea bottom) which contribute in giving whatever grows there its special flavour.

There are some good articles in the North American press about meroir and oysters, like this one or this one or even this one! And if that’s not enough then the celebrated Rowan Jacobsen’s authority should sway the doubters: in his connoisseur’s guide to oyster eating (A Geography of Oysters, 2007,p 3), he writes MEROIR (though he chickens out of it by preferring to keep to the term terroir).

It’s strange how that little ‘r’ letter has a nasty habit of popping up so often in connection with oysters!

So now I’ve had my rant!!