Years ago, a Michigan friend came to Baltimore for a job interview. He boarded a trolley car and asked the conductor to call out the Howard Street stop. After spending quite some time in his seat, he decided to check again with the conductor who looked at him incredulously and said, “I cawed Harred Street teu stops ago.” Obviously, my friend had not taken a course in BSOL (Baltimorese for Speakers of Other Languages). He was definitely not from Bawlmer, Murlan.
Baltimorese is a unique dialect with four very distinct characteristics: the nasal “O” sound, the glottal “L” that is swallowed or at times omitted, the omission of syllables in more than one syllable words, and the substitution of “f” for the “th” sound. Putting them altogether comes up with, “She caws Bawlmer hame and goes to Saint Bendix Cafflic Church on Blare Road before the Oreos game.” A good example of both “O” and “L” sounds used together can be found in the Baltimorese pronunciation of “two dollars,” as in “You spent teu dah-ers for that!” As for that glottal L sound made from the back of the throat, the mere pronunciation of “Loyola College” by Baltimore natives can cause severe throat constriction if not outright choking and the need for an EMT to apply the Heimlich maneuver.
Added to this lexicon are those words that are truly unique. Women carry pockey books (things you put teu dah-ers in), folks eat orsters, and it is generally a good idea not to jump over a bob whar fence. A simple question often asked about one’s destination is “Wheregis go? To the liberry?”
As a kid, I always thought Dutch people lived in “Hollintown”(Highlandtown), and the “Arsh” came from “Arlan.” A danger during a sudden rain storm is overflowing “sore hose.” You know, street drains into which water flows, but that happens infrequently, just “wunst in awall.”
My favorite word is “owniest” as in, “He’s the owniest guy Ah know who does that on his burfday.” Also a favorite is the Baltimorese greeting, “Hot air” (Hi there).
Baltimorese has waned over the years. Some claim it was the mass media of radio and television that influenced more conventional speech dialect while others point to the tainting of this quirky localism on the influx of outsiders. Many say the city had simply changed over time. Still, it was always refreshing to hear native practitioners Barbara Mikulski, Dominic “Mimi” DiPietro, and William Donald Schaefer strut their Baltimorese chops when being interviewed by the media.
But for me, if I could just wunst more watch a woman in print dress and apron on a hot summer’s day kneeling with bucket and brush warshin’ her marble stoops, milkmen treadin’ on the payment with their clinking milk bah-awls, and my mother renchin’ her hands in the zink on a Dezember day after arnin’ clays or hanging them on the clays line, I’d gladly render a chorus of “Muh Walled Arsh Rays.”
That’s “My Wild Irish Rose,” hon.
Otts Laupus (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Elkridge.