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A Baltimore lexicon

One of yesterday’s posts celebrated espantoon, the word for a police officer’s nightstick that the dictionary defines as of Baltimorean origin.

Today, bryanintimonium writes:

When I was in middle school I had a social studies teacher who was a true Baltimorean. He relished every opportunity to teach us about words that belonged just to Baltimore - even if it was just in the form of how to pronounce things properly. Most of all, I remember him producing a list of words that his grandmother used as well as his week-long lament of the passing of the Evening Sun. Maybe we could put together a list of Baltimore specific words?

I, as an auslander with a mere 22 years in Baltimore, am scarcely qualified to even broach the subject. Who among the gaudy readership of this blog can supply some words or phrases originating in or identified with Baltimore?

Two things I do not want. I do not want examples of Bawlmerese — those representations of local pronunciations. Down the ocean for to the ocean as an idiom is acceptable as a Baltimore locution, but downey ocean and all the others are well represented elsewhere.

Neither do I want nostalgic ruminations over Baltimore customs, such as the sauerkraut served with turkey at Thanksgiving.

Just words, phrases, idioms that are distinctively local, please.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:23 AM | | Comments (13)


Neat! Let me contribute a few that I've heard over the years.

Machine: an automobile
Smearcase: sour cream
coddie: cod cake

Not sure if this counts ...

What I remember from my childhood in Catonsville, then later Canton, is use of the word ignorant.

In Maryland, ignorant was used liberally to denote someone who was rude or bothersome. If someone interrupted you, he was ignorant.

I now live in Carson City, Nv. where ignorant just means stupid.

Everyone called an automobile a machine in the 1920s and 30s.

"Lake trout" is neither trout nor any other freshwater fish. It is usually whiting, breaded and fried, sold in neighborhood sandwich shops.


"smearcase" is almost certainly German in origin -- Käse is of course the Deutsch word for "cheese."

On "The Wire" -- my source for most things Baltimorian -- there is some discussion about what actually constitutes a "trout" ("lake trout"?) sandwich. One gets the impression that it is not trout. Any comment?

John, do you know whether the term "lake trout" used to describe a not-trout sandwich is unique to Baltimore? Just curious.

See John Woestendiek's definitive examination of lake trout, archived here:
(Sadly, Woestendiek has left The Baltimore Sun.)

Thanks for the Woestendiek item. Good reading. An attorney named Stan Whiting bought me one of the sandwiches one noon as we waited for a hearing at the Workers' Compensation Commission.

With respect to your words, Dan Rodricks has a fourteen part blog on all the things you don't want, and a few that you do. The items there might give some readers foods for their thoughts. Some are even deep fried, I'd wager.

Does "Down the ocean" reflect an Irish influence, perhaps? When I was a small child our school had an annual picnic in woodland adjoining the school grounds, and the Irish nuns invariably spoke of going "down the woods" rather than down in or down to or into, any of which you might hear from their local (New Zealand) colleagues.

Doesn't look like much of a rousing success. I suppose that's why I am a reader and not a writer. Thanks, John for taking up my suggestion.

There is already an entire dictionary for Bawlamereze...Have a gander

Yes, you can find more than one such listing on the Web. But, as I said, I'm not interested in the pronunciations but in the vocabulary.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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