Honned to Death

April 02, 1994

We would like to try to enlighten the so-far unenlightened debate in the State House hallways of Annapolis, and elsewhere, over the use of the term "hon" in Baltimore society.

"Hon" is:

* A quirky, innocent colloquialism that Baltimoreans have embraced as their own.

* The ever-present greeting at any eastside greasy spoon, as in "What'll it be, hon."

* A versatile sprite of a syllable that can be both motherly and flirtatious.

"Hon" is not:

* An insult.

* Condescending.

* Everyone's cup of tea -- the best response in this running dialogue over the salutation's communality was from Larry Young, an African-American state senator from the city, who opined he might prefer, "Welcome to Baltimore, Bro."

* Distinctly Baltimorean.

The Maryland section of the Enoch Pratt Library so far has been unbeen able to exhume anything that traces the roots of the phrase in Charm City.

Several authors who have written on "Baltimorese" ignored the term in their works for various reasons. John Goodspeed, who a generation ago wrote a column on language in The Evening Sun called "Mr. Peep's Diary," said he never considered the phrase uniquely Baltimore because waitresses also used it in his native Texas.

The Oxford New English Dictionary dates "honey," if not "hon," as a term of endearment to 1602.

"Hon" should not be:

* Wielded as a political football by legislators who think they're being cute by threatening to withhold funding if the city doesn't put "hon" on a highway welcome sign.

* An arrogant call to arms in some pseudo-cultural war over the heart and soul of true Baltimore.

"Hon" should:

* Remain what is has long been, an unpretentious, little pinch of a term. Like a joke told too often, once "hon" becomes an adopted municipal symbol, it loses its spontaneity, and its appeal. You can't eat crabs in dress clothes or buy a Maryland snowball in the freezer section of your supermarket. Fuss over hon, illuminate it on the interstate and it's no longer an unaffected, no-nonsense slice of life.

For goodness sake, leave hon be.

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