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How to Pronounce the Word "Labret"

You Say Luh-bray, I Say La-bret?


This may seem to be a petty issue, but the pronunciation of the word "labret" (lower lip piercing) has been either incorrectly taught or heavily debated for years. It is time to put an end to this dispute.

The first time I ever saw the word, I said lah-bret out loud, and was quickly corrected by those around me. I was told by my mentor and by several friends in the body art community that the correct pronunciation was luh-bray. Made sense to me. I figured it was a French word like "beret" and "Monet". The mistake I made was to take what I was told for granted.

For 4 years now, I have pronounced it "luh-bray" and have corrected others for not saying it that way. I didn't really see any discrepancies - all the professionals I knew in the field also said luh-bray. As far as I was concerned, the case was closed.

Until two weeks ago, when I got my l-a-b-r-e-t pierced. Billy, my piercer whom I respect very much, kept saying "lah-bret" and I became confused. I noticed that the others that worked in the studio also said lah-bret (except when they were joking around and called it a "lab rat"). Now, I know the great people at Metamorphosis are not a bunch of idiots, so this got me thinking that maybe it was me who had been wrong all this time. It was time to turn to the ultimate authority: the dictionary. And this is what it says:

la·bret (lay brit)
n. An ornament inserted into a perforation in the lip.
{Latin labrum, lip; see leb- in Indo-European Roots + -et.}

I've checked several different dictionaries, and they all agree. The correct pronunciation is lay-brit. It's not a French word, which explains why the -et isn't pronounced ay.

So, where did the word come from? As you can see from above, the root word is the Latin labrum, which means lip. The -et suffix, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, means "something worn on". So, the combination of the Latin labrum (lip) and the suffix -et (something worn on), creates labret - something worn on the lip.

That also ends another debate - if a "labret" piercing and a "lip" piercing are different. Some have argued that a piercing only qualifies as a "labret" if it is a post (stud) centered below the lip. If it is a ring that goes over the lip, especially if it is located to one side rather than centered, it was said that this would be considered a lip piercing, not a labret. But according to the literal translation of the word, any jewelry or adornment of the lip can be considered a labret. As far as I am concerned, it's six of one and half-dozen of the other. But if you want to get technical, there you go.

How you decide to pronounce l-a-b-r-e-t after reading this article is completely up to you. Honestly, no matter how anyone pronounces it around me from now on, I'm keeping my mouth shut! As long as we all know what we're talking about, we'll get along just fine.

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