BREAM.

Fish names are a tangle, and bream is applied to all sorts of creatures, freshwater and marine, European and American and Australian. Fortunately, my concern here is purely with the word itself, and specifically its pronunciation. The OED gives only /bri:m/ (i.e., with the “long e” sound of seem); both Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate and the New Oxford American say /brim, brēm/ (giving preference to the short-e form prounounced like brim); and the Australian Oxford says /brim/ is used for “any of several Australian marine fish, valued for sport and eating” and “any of several Australian freshwater perch,” but the long-e form is used for “a similar marine and freshwater fish of Europe etc.” So my general question is: if you actually use this word in speech, how do you pronounce it? (Please say where you’re from as well.) And my question to Australian readers is: do you actually pronounce the word differently depending on whether it refers to Australian or European fish? That sounds unlikely to me, but when it comes to language just about anything is possible.

Comments

  1. I know it only with the short vowel pronunciation, whatever the origin. I’m from Australia.

  2. Short vowel /brim/, and I’m from Louisiana.

  3. speedwell says:

    Georgia and Texas; /brim/ in both places.

  4. I’m Australian and it ws always brim. Only when I came to the UK did I hear breem, and I still can’t get used to it. Though I always wondered how bream got to be pronounced brim ….
    Paul

  5. [bri:m] for me; I’m an American.
    Are there other words with [I] that are spelled “ea”?

  6. Paul Clapham says:

    I’m Canadian. If I had to say the word I would rhyme it with “cream”. However I don’t recall ever hearing the word spoken by anybody (including myself) since I emigrated from England about 50 years ago… except in reference to the musician Julian Bream.

  7. michael farris says:

    I grew up in rural and SW Florida and only say [brIm], in addition to a number of freshwater panfish:
    floridafisheries.com/Fishes/panfish.html
    we used to catch something (in salt and/or brackish waters) that we called bream but I don’t remember what it was or what it would be called anywhere else.

  8. My impression is that in the U.S. the word is common only in the South, where it is pronounced /brIm/; in other areas it would be learned from reading, and of course pronounced “breem” (offhand, I can’t think of any other words in which -ea- is pronounced /I/, though there must be one or two, given the peculiarities of English orthography).

  9. breem in New Zealand

  10. aka_darrell says:

    When I read it I think breem but when I say it I say BrIm.
    aka_darrell, from Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri. What do you call that bit of the country?

  11. Daniel Powell says:

    /brim/ here. (Georgia) — I’ve never even encountered the long-vowel pronunciation, although that was of course how I read it when I first saw the word in print.

  12. Tim May says:

    /bri:m/, southern England. But, again, I basically know it from print.

  13. daniel ho says:

    /bri:m/ in Montreal, Quebec (in the mouths of anglophones). in Quebec French it’s “dorade”.

  14. Damien Warman says:

    /brim/, Adelaide, Australia. Used to catch ‘em as a kid fishing with my dad. It’s what he says. /bri:m/ only for people’s names.

  15. bri:m — I had no idea of the other pronunciation. This in southern England. In Sweden, I say “brax” which is an oddly spiky name for a fish (abramis brama) distinguished by great sliminess.
    I’m trying to think of other words used to refer to numerous almost unrelated species — perch, robin, sparrow …

  16. bri:m — I had no idea of the other pronunciation. This in southern England. In Sweden, I say “brax” which is an oddly spiky name for a fish (abramis brama) distinguished by great sliminess.
    I’m trying to think of other words used to refer to numerous almost unrelated species — perch, robin, sparrow …

  17. In northern New England, /bri:m/. In Slovenia (where I live now, so not a total non-sequitur) it’s called ‘orada’. My (British) English-Slovene dictionary gives the alternate ‘gilthead’. For what it’s worth, I’ve also heard the saltwater varieties referred to as ‘sea-bream’.

  18. Everywhere I’ve been in Britain and Ireland it rhymes with cream, and is often prefixed with “sea-” where appropriate. Never heard of “brim” until I read this post.

  19. Maire Smith says:

    I’m from New Zealand. I’ve only ever used it in reading aloud and the fish referred to have been European. I use the long E sound.

  20. hillbillyswamp says:

    Brim, always, in Arkansas and various other places in the American South where I’ve lived.

  21. Southern Californian. I have always heard it bream as in cream.

  22. In NZ there is no native fish called bream (our “snapper” is a close relative of the Aussie sea breams though). So if we say it out loud at all, we rhyme it with “seam” and “gleam”. Or what Maire said. (How’s the weather in Hataitai?)
    Aren’t there varieties of Australian English where these sounds have collapsed together anyway? If New Zealanders want to mock Aussie accents, we elongate short “i”s, so that we would say “Teem, deed y’ see heem?” So I wouldn’t expect a classic Strine speaker to distinguish the two pronunciations anyway.

  23. Aha, I hadn’t thought of that.

  24. Boy, does this open a can of fishbait. As an American kid raised in Japanese cities, one who never fished for anything except rainbow trout in artificial ponds, I once elicited about 300 fish names in a New Guinea coastal village using the huge Australian tome, Grant’s Guide to Fishes. In the process I learned, oh, maybe 280 or so Australian English names for fishes I couldn’t have named in any language when I began. (I learned both “sea bream” and “red snapper” only from reading English menus that so translated Japanese tai 鯛.) Then, when I got back to Hawai‘i after fieldwork, I acquired a lot of new common synonyms (and contradictions) for many of the fish names.
    My impression is that it’s not just the pronunciation of fish names that varies across any widely disbursed language, but also the common names. For instance, what’s your default common name for the genus Caranx? Is it crevally, trevally, jackfish, pompano, ulua, …?

  25. bathrobe says:

    /brim/. I’m from Australia, and that’s what they are called. Since very few people in Australia are likely to discuss the European varieties of bream, whether they would be pronounced /brim/ or /bri:m/ seems to be of academic interest. (Perhaps one could imagine some well-travelled, fairly well-educated Aussie sitting there and telling his friends: “They call this /bri:m/ in the UK, you know”, or more likely “The Poms call this /bri:m/”).

  26. I never heard the word before moving to New Orleans. I’d assumed it was “breem,” but everyone here says “brim”.

  27. stephen I think Australian English does make a length distinction between [i] and [i:], in minimal pairs like “Tim” vs. “team”. The NZ accent lacks short [i], so the vowel in “Tim” is somewhere between [I] and schwa. thus to a NZ ear, all Australian [i]‘s sound the same, and we reproduce them all as long [i:].

  28. North East England: bri:m. South Africans would pronounce it with the “i:” sound which is always somewhat shorter than the UK pronunciation.

  29. Thank you, nomis, that makes sense. I shall take my tin ear for vowels and sulk now.

  30. I live in Rockwall, Texas and the street name I live on is Bream. There are two lakes very close in proximity to the house and all of the neighboring streets are named after various fish, i.e. Trout, Perch, etc…
    I detest pronouncing the street with the short e sound, but feel quite silly if I pronounce it with the long e (rhyming with dream).
    In answer to the question: I use both pronunciations, depending on the person I am speaking with.

  31. “Bream” to rhyme with “beam” – I’m British.

  32. Consulted a native of Cronulla today. “Brim”, rhymes with skim. Capable of distinguishing team and Tim too ;-)

  33. Bream rhymes with seem for me, so that’s the long vowel. I’m from the US, born and raised in Alaska (where, as far as I know, we don’t actually have bream).

  34. John Emerson says:

    Bream / cream for me, but in Minnesota (where fishing is importnt) the term was never used. I don’t even remember which fish it means, though I once knew.
    I once looked up “dogfish”, and there are as many as 90 species by that name, fresh and salt water both. In Minnesota there are two, one (possibly) an eelpout and one something quite different.

  35. Minnesotan here too, and though I don’t use the word ‘bream’, the instinct is to pronounce it just like ‘cream’, but I think that’s because of the spelling similarities.

  36. Rhymes with cream. Western Canada.

  37. Wisconsin. long e.
    Bream on the Brule…

  38. Breeem. Virginia.

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