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Hon Baltimore:  Hon Lexicon, Hon person, Neighborhoods

 Hon Lexicon
A Baltimore culture exists in this most populous port city in Maryland in that the people have a shared history which, in general, has created a similar aspect of demeanor of individuals which collectively I call the Hon culture. Visitors to Baltimore have gotten a collective impression of many of the people of Baltimore, especially the friendly tendency of Baltimoreans to use terms of endearment in addressing total strangers. These terms might include dearie, baby, darling, sweetie, lovey –and the list goes on-but the most commonly heard term of endearment is hon.
  The visitor or resident can hear the hon word in restaurants, while at the hairdressers getting their hair done, from cashiers, or from persons they might pass on the street. Sometimes one will see hon on signs or on bumper stickers of cars passing like “Blieve Hon”
  Thus we have Hon Baltimore.

   I have a lot of familiarity with this aspect of many of the people of Baltimore since I have lived in Baltimore all of my life and I admit to occasionally using the word hon, a verbal habit that is hard to change.
  The free use of terms of endearment is only one of many overall characteristics to the typical hon person in Baltimore. Indeed there is a frequently printed entire lexicon of distortions of words by persons in Baltimore or Bawlamer. Generally, there is in general a slurring of words as if the mouth just was a little bit too tired to really enunciate each word distinctly. There is an entire bell curve of distortion and some words particularly are more commonly revised.
   Some more common examples are water that becomes wuder, arn for iron, zink for sink. Lists are everywhere on the Internet but some of my favorite are:



   Ann Runnel                        

   Anne Arundel
    ax     ask
    elfin      elephant
    Coats      Colts
   Merlin     Maryland
    payment       pavement
    Droodle Park     Druid (Hill) Park
    bleef     believe
    Far     fire
    Blair Road     Belair Road
    Yoose all                                    you all
    wuder     water
There is another curious linguistic quirk of a Baltimoron who "might" be a Hon. When talking to another person, and relating a conversation in the past with a third person, the Hon tends to use the present tense, "I say, she says"  "I say, 'Are you go-in-ta  plant any peeOnies in your back yard this year?'An she says why would I do that, they all got roined by the rain last year, an I sez  'they look awful nice against the side of your house' an she looks me right in the eye and says plant your own peeOnies an I tell her right out,  'I don't have any place to put'em,' an she sez, just like that, she says that's your problem, Hon, I don't wanna be bothered.
Hons tend to be spunky. They tell you what they think.   ((I think the whole Hon thing might be a public relations put-on! Please let no one take insult from the above conversational rendition!))

    Here are some links to more extensive Bawlamer words:

Hon Person
 Beyond speech, what are other known (known by other Baltimoreans) characteristics of a hon person? I have my own list:
   Will eat crabs in summer with Old Bay Seasoning. Has gone crabbing at least once.
   Will tell you his/her life story at “the drop of a hat”
Might live in a rowhouse in Hampden, Highlandtown, or Pigtown (Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods. More on this later)
Often will have plastic flamingos (known as Balimore Flamingos) on the front lawn.

   Has heard of Jon Waters and usually has seen his movies.
   Has been to Café Hon in Hampden
   Has been to the Inner
Harbor at least once.
   Remembers when Baltimore Aquarium opened and then Mayor William Donald Schaefer took a dip in the pool
   Can tell you about Blaze Star and the Block
   Remembers the horrible day March 29, 1984 when Robert Irsay moved the football team which was then the Baltimore Colts to
Remembers the old Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street which housed the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Colts for many years from about 1944. Demolished 2001
   Had visited the Enoch Pratt Free central library  on Cathedral Street.
   Knows Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Raven” by heart.
   Knows of H.L. Mencken and that he worked at Baltimore Sunpapers
   Has walked around and looked at tulips at Cylburn Gardens
   Knows it is Johns Hopkins (with the s) University and Hospital and not John Hopkins
   Has been to Hippodrome, Lyric, or Meyerhoff (If they could afford the $$$$$)
   In past, had bought something at Lexington Market in Baltimore
   Has been to the Senator Theater on York Road in Govans.
   Has spent a day at what was the Baltimore Zoo (now the Maryland zoo)
   Has eaten in a restaurant in Little Italy or Greektown.

  Baltimore and its Neighborhoods
Baltimore was originally known for effectively defending against the British during the War of 1812 (The Battle of Baltimore) and Francis Scott Key saw the American flag still waving at Fort McHenry and wrote our Star-spangled banner.

   Baltimore has always been defined by the Chesapeake Bay and the Inner Harbor. The Inner Harbor, as we know it today, was officially opened July 1, 1980, solidifying Baltimore as a tourist destination.
 Baltimore is a seaport city and, historically, many of the people in the neighborhoods have been blue collar workers who came to Baltimore to either work at Bethlehem Steel or perhaps the mills in Hampden.

 In 1941 there were over l80,000 employees at Bethlehem Steel. By the 80's this number had shrunk to 8000 as the city continued to lose "blue collar" jobs at an enormous pace. Today "The Point" is a mere skeleton of its former glory. ("The Point" is what workers call Bethlehem Steel-Sparrows Point. "My husband works at the Point.")
  Also, the Baltimore and Ohio railroads were a big part of the economy of Baltimore.
   Some of the Baltimore workers have come from the south and the culture and Hon culture of Baltimore has been brought North by these southerners. There have also been a lot of immigrants that have come to Baltimore to settle in neighborhoods and have defined the character of the neighborhood by their presence. Examples have been Little Italy, Greektown, Locust Point (Polish, Irish, and Italian also), later Koreans. Of course a lot of
Baltimore is also home to many African Americans.
   The default home in Baltimore is the rowhouse and Baltimore has been renowned for the white marble steps on many rowhouses that needed to be cleaned regularly usually with Bon Ami.
Federal Hill and Fells Point have many examples of this type of rowhouse. Later, in 1950s, some formstone rowhouses were seen; the formstone covering the brick for a smoother look.
Baltimore has many neighborhoods and not all would qualify as “hon neighborhoods.”  I would in particular still name certain neighborhoods such as Hampden, Highlandtown, Pigtown, Canton, and Locust Point. The height of hon culture was probably the 50s through the 70s. I personally am very familiar with this time and the hon culture was fairly prevelant in many neighborhoods at the time.

   Now many of the hon neighborhoods have become gentrified and have lost their original character to some degree. Still, a visitor can go to the annual festival in Hampden in September and the famous HonFest in July. At the HonFest everyone dresses up in exaggerated Hon costumes-which might to some seem somewhat politically incorrect-but it’s all in fun. 

   At this annual festival, you can bask in the local color which includes crabs of course, plastic flamingos for the yard (now there are purple flamingos to represent the football team, the Ravens), beer, pony rides, and flea and bargain markets.
   Many artists and wealthier folks have moved to Hampden which has been a blue collar neighborhood (a hon neighborhood) to create a new admixture but everyone seems compatible.
   The main drag in Hampden is 36th Street where you can find many restaurants, coffee shops, a grocery store, and other stores. The shops come and go, but fairly stable ones are Atomic Books, Avenue Antiques, Breathe Books (new age), David's (great used furniture), New System Bakery, Turnover Shop (Elm at 36th), Golden West Cafe, Frazier's on the Avenue, and an assortment of other eateries and, of course, the Café Hon where even now you are pretty sure to be addressed with a hon from your waitress. The web site for Café Hon is http://www.cafehon.com/
   Baltimore has many other treats for visitors like the Inner Harbor where you can take the kids to the National Acquarium or the Maryland Science Center; recall history at Fort McHenry; walk around Fells Point or Federal Hill, watch baseball at the new Camden Yards; visit the now Maryland Zoo (It used to be called the Baltimore Zoo) or visit museums like the Walters Art Gallery or the Baltimore Museum of Art. There are many websites that will give you all the heads up you need for your visit. Some are listed below.
   So hope to see you soon in Baltimore, hon.
-Carol Koh (a lifetime Baltimorean)

Addendum: Memories of Hampden
  Hampden l966
: To find the neighborhood, you need to know where you're going. It is sandwiched between Druid Hill and Wyman Parks, the increasingly sprawling Johns Hopkins University acting as a wall to the east. In earlier times, one might conclude, few Hampdenites left their neighborhood, even to chose a marital spouse. People said rather unkindly that close marriages stamped a "Hampden look" on its residents.

  The main drag is 700 to 900 block W. 36th St. Every neighborhood in those days has an informal restaurant whose diners represent that neighborhood in microcosm. One gets the current neighborhood news right there. The restaurant is the Ye-Eat on 36th near Roland Avenue. Inside, a small counter lines the left side of the wall, with narrow booths on the right. Further back are more booths, tables and chairs. The restaurant serves beer. Smoke fills the air. The smell of plain but good food also fills the air--and of course, coffee. Around noon on Saturday it is hard to get a seat.

Next door is an old fashioned bakery. Often a small group waits outside, despairing that the #10 bus headed downtown will ever turn that corner onto 36th Street. Eventually the bus arrives. A two-story five and dime store, Murphy's, gave a solid anchor to W. 36th. There were a few drug stores. A man named "Bunny Nevins" acted as an informal mayor and historian. An entrepreneur tried to open a small indoor shopping mall on the site of the old Ideal movie house. That plan didn't work out. Modest restaurants, small shops, a Good Will store, bars rounded out the shopping area; smaller grocery stores but no supermarkets. Falls road marks the end of W. 36th Street. On Falls, just off 36th, another pharmacy and a decent Enoch Pratt library, one of the oldest branches....

  Crossing Falls Road , walking west where 36th Street ends, School Street slopes down a hill, leading to Robert Poole School. In 1966 the school is largely white. The voters are largely pro -"Your Home is your Castle" Mahoney. A rookie teacher puzzles why so many of the 7th and 8th graders are older than their grade. They've "failed" a grade. Some boys brag about their probation officers. Children toss slips on the teacher's desk, form letters requesting attendance. The rookie teacher eventually figures out that these must be completed and returned via the pupil to a probation officer or social worker. (Yet, some of the kids are well-behaved and eager to learn). Principle Margueritte Smith was a physical and actual large presence in this school. The occupations of the children's parents: milkman, postman, factory worker --and what's this! lawyer! Before and after school the students crowd into a small restaurant at the corner of Falls. Here, a
l3 year old girl sits on a stool eating her breakfast, a doughnut and a cup of coffee.

  In 1971 the Baltimore City Dept. of Social Services decides that its clients can best be served through a couple dozen local offices scattered around the neighborhoods. Hampden gets its office, a spanking new building on Falls Road. Looking inside, one spies the same decrepit BCDSS furniture. The office opens and people come in. (Shortly after, BCDSS decides on a new model: closing of the neighborhood centers and consolidation into three large centers. ) The Hampden office closes. If the people of Hampden need social services, they'd best get down to 36th Street and wait for that pokey #10 bus to turn the corner! 
                        -Dorian Borsella

Links to check out before visiting Baltimore:


Baltimore.Org                              http://baltimore.org/
Baltimore City Site http://www.baltimorecity.gov/
Baltimore Sun (newspaper)         http://www.baltimorecity.gov/
Baltimore City Paper


Things To Do: Baltimore              http://www.thingstodobaltimore.com/