‘Welcome to Baltimore, Hon’: The Urban Folklore of Local Speech
Accents and dialects not only delineate but in many ways bolster regional identities in the U.S., but words play an equally important role as well. For Baltimore natives, the moniker “hon” carries one such storied tradition, which Bronx Community College Professor David J. Puglia investigates in his new book Tradition, Urban Identity, and the Baltimore ‘Hon’. Puglia examines the word’s rich history, concentrating on the role it played in establishing and perpetuating Baltimoreans’ sense of identity.
Drawing on a case study in which a local man added “hon” to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway’s sign “Welcome to Baltimore,” Puglia reveals how that act shifted folk speech into a more consequential context. The graffiti “transformed [‘hon’] from a stigmatized word associated with working-class Baltimoreans to an esteemed word tied to local roots and native city identity,” Puglia writes.
Yet, not every Baltimorean was comfortable with the use of “hon,” and debates raged about its working-class origins, among other things. As a result, Puglia writes, it became a “symbolic battlefield” for larger frameworks like race, gender, belonging, and, perhaps most importantly, class.
Puglia approaches “hon” from the perspective of class, arguing that that particular framework has been overlooked in folklore studies compared to race and gender. By using class, he reveals how the Baltimore “hon” does not denote high or low culture, but rather local culture and for that very reason suggests a new understanding of urban folklore. He writes, “It has been an important reconceptualization of how the local is done in folklore.”
Puglia told SUM, “I hope readers come away appreciating that folklore is not just a quaint remnant of the past, but an essential part of modern life, even in a large American city, and that urban traditions are often caught up in, and give insight to, the political battles of the day.”
Explore This Work
Tradition, Urban Identity, and the Baltimore “Hon”: The Folk in the City
Rowman & Littlefield, 2018
Colleges and Schools
Bronx Community College
“Growing Little Traditions: Baltimore’s Little Miss Hon Contest” (Children’s Folklore Review)