Dan Rodricks: You don't own me, hon

Denise Whiting's crass effort to control use of a Baltimore regionalism

  • Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting has officially trademarked the word "hon."
Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting has officially trademarked the… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
December 11, 2010|By Dan Rodricks, The Baltimore Sun

Anyone who ever had an inclination to do so should get all their family members sweatshirts or T-shirts invoking "Hon" in some way: "Merry Christmas, Hon," "Happy New Year, Hon," "Welcome to Bawlmer, Hon," and, to drive home the point, "You Don't Own Me, Hon" (off the 1964, Hon-era Lesley Gore song). That's my suggestion for a unified public response to Denise Whiting's crass effort to own a Baltimore regionalism — take away the local market for her wearable Hon merchandise by springing for some custom-made sweats and T's for our next of kin.

Let her try and put a stop to that.

I won't go into the legalisms, the whole business of Whiting making "Hon" a trademark so that no one can use it for any public or commercial endeavor without her permission or — despite her denials of profit motive — without paying her a fee. I'll leave that for the lawyers and the intellectual property experts.

The response to Whiting's move has been so strong and negative — so much so that you wonder if Café Hon's owner has squandered the good will she'd established with her customers. Here's why: You can't own something that doesn't belong to you. You shouldn't be allowed to control use of something that has been in use by Baltimore's extended family for years.

"Hon" isn't unique to Denise Whiting, no matter how special she wants us to believe she is. Some linguists say it might not even be unique to Baltimore. But Baltimore took possession of "Hon" at some point in its history and anyone who would step up and claim ownership of it should be quickly booed off the stage, thank you very much.

A term of endearment, that's all, "Hon" is something that makes Baltimore a bit different from Everyplace Else, USA. It might not be part of everyone's greeting — there's a history around here of African-Americans and feminists finding it offensive — but it was poured into the pot a long time ago and survives as a provincialism that distinguishes this city and the communities adjoining it from all other metropolitan areas. You can hear, "You want fries with that?" anywhere in the United States. Only in and near Baltimore do you hear, "You want fries with that, hon?"

That was true long before Denise Whiting opened Café Hon.

And I am pretty sure Hon Man was doing his thing before that, too. In the early 1990s, he started stapling "Hon" placards to the welcome sign on the city limits on the B-W Parkway. Hon Man did this when no one was looking. He didn't want credit. He didn't want to be identified. He didn't want to be arrested for his act of civic pride.

And he certainly didn't want to be compensated.

I've said it before and will say it again: "Hon" is part of this community's tradition and culture, as much as snow panic in winter, bull roasts in spring, snowball stands and crab feasts in summer; a-rabs (what's left of them); marble steps; lake trout; rubber tire urns filled with petunias; the pride felt for Brooks, Frank and Cal and now Ray and Todd.

"Hon" is one of many things that made this guy feel instantly welcomed when he moved to the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin 30-plus years ago. I think it was a waitress at old Bud Paolino's Crab House who first addressed me with it.

Kudos to Denise Whiting for being a savvy, sassy businesswoman, for establishing the Hon Fest, for putting the 30-foot pink flamingo over her establishment and making 36th Street in Hampden a destination. Her celebration of "Hon" was on time, a way of countering the "homogenization of the provinces," which is what happens to communities when their local character gets crushed by pop culture, mass communication and franchise marketing.

Sadly, this effort at trademark puts Whiting in the commercial class her celebration of "Hon" was originally meant to counter. She wants to be the Hon franchise, to "own" and control something that didn't belong to her. I say boo, hiss, and give her the hook.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.