"Baltimore is a city of tribal rituals, of neighbors sharing steamed crabs in the back yard, and downtown waitresses who call their customers Hon without worrying about any vast sociological implications, and worshipful football fans who believe the snatching of their beloved Colts was the worst kidnapping since the Lindbergh baby."
To help newcomers decipher the unique lingo Baltimore natives have developed over the years, I offer the following tutorial:
Dialect and Accents
We Baltimoreans don't have an accent. All of you other people have accents. We do, however, have a way of saying things and formulating certain catch phrases. It is safe to assume that the slang terms of Baltimore are unlike those anywhere else in the world.
Let's start with dialect and the accent we never admit to. We're not crazy about consonants and drop them off of words randomly, starting with our city and state: Baltimore, Maryland. That's Bawlmer, Merry-land, hon. (Everything has a hon attached to it.)
Often it's a matter of dropping off the end letter, particularly when it comes to "ing" words. Why use three letters when two will do the job? When we sing the national anthem before an O's game, the ramparts we watched were gallantly streamin'. And the twilight Francis Scott Key wrote about that night he penned the national anthem? It was gleamin'.
Sometimes we don't drop the consonants off. We change them – because we can. With becomes wif, birthday becomes birfday and windows morphs into winders.
Oftentimes the letter "o" comes out sounding like "oe" – quite the nasal pronunciation. You coem your hair and put stoen in your driveway. The name of our baseball team? The oe-REE-oels. That football team that the late Robert Irsay scuttled off with to Indianapolis in the middle of the night? The Bawlmer Coets (more like "coat," hon!). And the people in uniform who pull you over for driving too fast (which is always a bum rap around, now isn't it)? The POE-lees. Even the cops on the job at the Baltimore City Police Department call themselves the POE-lees.
The lingo in Baltimore makes the letters "ir" sound much more like "ar," as well. If our house starts to burn down, we'll be looking for a far injun. We'd be expecting to hear a loud sarn as the injun approached the home. Hopefully, the farman would bring a pumper injun because he'd never get enough water out of our zinks. And, of course, if there are people trapped in the home, the farman will have an amblance in tow in case there are injuries.
People from Dun-dock (Dundalk) and Down the Point (Sparrows Point or Locus Point) have a stronger accent and dialect than the folks in Towel-zen (Towson). Baltimoreans are always traveling on Blair (Belair) Road, part of which runs in Bel Air, Maryland. Blair and Bel Air, said two different ways, make perfect sense to us.
Since we're discussing Dun-dock, it's a good place to bring up catch phrases. Here are some classic slang terms Baltimore locals will throw out on any given day in Dundalk:
Goen downy oshin, hon.
Or, "going down the Ocean, hon." Baltimoreans look forward to an annual trek to Ocean City each year. That trip is a combination of vacation, tradition and culture.
How 'bout dem O's!
Even during losing years, this is the battle cry you'll hear in taverns and on the streets any time of day or night. Dem O's have a real history of playing bawl.
It may not be politically correct to refer to a woman as hon (honey), but in Baltimore slang it's the period at the end of a sentence. Both males and females are hons in conversation, and no one takes it personally. No one infers that the person saying it has a condescending attitude. Baltimoreans scoff at such stuff, thinking those on the outside take themselves too seriously. Hon is a term of endearment and friendliness, a way of welcoming you into the inner circle. Other people end sentences with the phrase, "Have a nice day!" We sum it up in a simple word: hon.
In fact, we take our hons seriously to the point of paying homage to them. In the physical sense, hon relates to a type of Baltimorean: the classic '60s Baltimore gal with big hair, spiked heels and a short dress. If you've seen the movies Hairspray or Cry Baby you've seen a lot of hons gathered in one place. If you haven't, you still have time to catch a bunch of hons in action. Each year, Denise Whiting, owner of the Cafe Hon, a diner in Hamden, acts as the grand force behind a backyard event that has turned into a testament to the Baltimore Hon: The annual HonFest.
Café Hon, 1002 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211; 410-243-1230; Mon-Thu 7AM-9PM,
Fri 7AM-10PM, Sat 9AM-10PM, Sun 9AM-8PM
This spirited festival pays tribute to a Baltimore tradition. Women are encouraged to don their tiniest (and gaudiest) dresses, tease up their hair and swath on blue eye shadow so it can be seen beneath crazy varieties of eyewear. The woman who pulls off the best ensemble and jumps through a few other hoops gets crowned queen of the festival and becomes Hon for a year. Most women in Baltimore would be happier winning the HonFest than the Miss America Pageant.
Ain't the Beer Cold!
This bit of Baltimore slang comes from the late, legendary, hall-of-fame sportscaster Chuck Thompson who called Orioles games for years. It was also the name of Thompson's autobiography. Ironically, he stopped using the phrase after people complained that they thought it was inappropriate because there were already so many beer commercials associated with baseball. But while he stopped using it, other Baltimoreans haven't.
If the Hon girl epitomizes women in Baltimore, the Natty Boh (National Bohemian Beer) man covers the Baltimore male. A bushel of crabs covered in Old Bay, a case of Natty Boh and the Chesapeake Bay as the backdrop is all most Baltimoreans need.
And that's Baltimore's vernacular and mentality in a nutshell. There are many more slang phrases Baltimore locals have adopted over the years, mainly ones devised by politicians and the like. Around Baltimore, the language is definitely by and for the people.