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Let it go, hon, let it go

I won’t be attending Honfest this year, but then, I never have. Today’s Sun has an article about the latest hontroversy swirling around Denise Whiting, the owner of Cafe Hon and impresario of the annual festival, and it will be interesting to see what effect—if any—it has on attendance.

One reason to stay away is that during last year’s hontroversy, over Ms. Whiting’s trademarking of “hon” merchandise, I said what needed to be said.* I’m sure that the familiar chorus is ready to sing again—Disgruntled Former Restaurant Employee, Naive About Business, Deplores That She Makes Money On It, and Suburban Protector of Hampden—but the virulence of their hostility is, though comical, of limited entertainment value.

This is a language blog, and I can offer one piece of advice about how you should use language if you take part in any of these heated but trivial exchanges. It’s the same advice Mobtown Shank gave last year: It’s not a boycott if you never went there in the first place.


*"The ‘hon’ kerfuffle,” “A modest defense of Denise Whiting,” and “Try the Pancakes”



Posted by John McIntyre at 2:34 PM | | Comments (14)


merchanmdise got by the spellchecker

The irrepressible ddfairchild

Well I'm not going. I'll tell you that: I'm not going.

Isn't this just more boysenberry and maple syrup under the bridge?

Seems like the flapjacks are stacked against Ms. Whiting, and yet the gal forges on, undeterred by all the public push-back, and on-again-off-again 'hontroversy'.

Why I have a mind to go and patent the word "weiner', and see what kind of 'weiner war' that might ignite.(OK, I'm getting silly here.)

As former ABC 20/20 host John Stossel used to grouse, "Give me a break!"


At the new year, Mr. McIntyre, you predicted this controversy would quickly fade.

In February you pledged to stop writing about it.

In June, it is still making the front page in various media and you somehow find it compelling enough to offer commentary yet again.

You, Mr. -- oh what moniker to bestow? Bowtied Too Tight? -- continue to condescend to the "chorus" and ignore the operatic themes in play.

And you continue to cling to that hack quote about boycotting that sounds pithy but isn't true. A person can, in fact, boycott that which she's never patronized. A boycott is an organized effort at social isolation, typically aimed at causing economic harm. The term comes from common folks' organized opposition to one Captain Boycott, representative of a mercenary lord, who evicted tenants from their land.*
(My, how history echoes).

You continue to mock citizens who have remain motivated over many months to take a stand against the commercialization of their cultural heritage for the economic gain of one businessperson. This isn't about begrudging Ms. Whiting economic success, or about disgruntlement or naivete. It's about abhorring Ms. Whiting's strategy of attempting to seize and stereotype a whole class of women, along with a notion of neighborhood.

Your protracted oblivousness (if that's what it is) to the core issue is a puzzlement and disappointment. Surely you aren't really content to skim the surface of this, dismissing the serious and interesting aspects of the conflict because you dislike the sometimes crude forms of expression and thought a few of Ms. Whiting's critics have demonstrated. Don't you wield your editor's pen to craft clarity? Please. Exercise you skills on this matter and address what matters.

*source: Wikipedia. Gotta love it.

I think Andrea has the right of it as far as "boycott" is concerned.  It's not necessarily that one used a service in the past but will not do so in the future; all that is necessary is that there should have been a possibility of using the service in the future, a possibility which one has forsworn.  I couldn't boycott the Honfest (it's too damn far away) but I could boycott the Notting Hill Carnival by deciding I won't go to the next one (even though I've never attended it).  I could certainly boycott next year's London Olympics, yet I haven't, obviously, attended them - they haven't happened yet.

All right, I’ll grant you that the boycott line was an exaggeration—but there is still something inherently comic about the proclamations of people who have never patronized Cafe Hon that they will shun it.

Since Andrea asks, I’ll explain what’s back of the mockery.

Denise Whiting is an aggressive businesswoman who has taken legal means to protect her brand. That she had trademarked “hon” years before last year’s kerfuffle shows how little effect that action had on just about everyone. Her restrictions on vendors at Honfest may be elaborate, but they are not extreme. (My parish runs an annual street fair in the fall, and I’m sure it controls what vendors are present.) I’ll grant you that she looks pushy, but so?

And “the economic gain of one businessperson” puts it a little strongly. I’m fairly sure that the tens of thousands of people who attend Honfest patronize businesses other than Ms. Whiting’s. And despite the complaints about “outsiders” coming to Hampden, I doubt that the neighborhood businesses want to turn them away. Anybody close up shop this weekend in opposition to Honfest?

As to the cultural heritage, the “hon” figure is a cultural stereotype. John Waters may have manipulated it in more aesthetically sophisticated ways than Denise Whiting, but it is a stereotype nevertheless, and he has surely profited from it. Perhaps rather than “stereotype,” I should say “kitsch.” If the articles and booklets and cheapjack souvenirs about the local dialect, “Bawlmerese,” don’t mock the cultural heritage, then Honfest is no worse than them.

But the fundamental thing—let’s get down to it—is the disproportionate rage. I don’t see than anyone has been injured by the trademarking or by the Honfest activities. So where does all the anger come from?

I suppose there may be some business rivalries at play, and there may be some hostility toward outsiders in Hampden’s cultural heritage (manifesting itself when I first lived in Baltimore to the risk that African-Americans took if they ventured into the neighborhood). There may be some anxiety about the changes in the neighborhood as new elements, like the hipster population, make it their own. But I think that there are deeper roots: unhappiness that the blue-collar culture has been eroding as the jobs that supported it have vanished. Honfest is a synthetic and sentimentalized version of what used to be a broad reality.

Denise Whiting is a convenient representative of all those changes, and thus an obvious target.


By-the-by, I understand you boycotted the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake contest outside Gloucester, England, which ran just a bit ago (May 25th); that annual madcap, bordering on insane, tumble down said grassy hillock w/ thoroughly daft contestants hurtling themselves forward, futilely chasing a tumbling 8 lb. (3.5 kg.) round of Double Gloucester cheese, w/ the distinct possibility of doing themselves grave bodily harm?

Can't believe they even have four uphill cheese rolls, as well, along w/ the five downhill tumbles.

I know you've been holding out for similar cheese round rolling 'events' w/ the 'cheeseheads' of Bath and their fine rounds of Bath Blue, and of course those Derbyshire lads and their award-winning Stilton rounds.

Interestingly, with a slight touch of irony, cheese made in the tiny village of Stilton in Cambridgeshire, where this distinctive, and delightful cheese variety originated eons ago, cannot, today, legally be labelled "Stilton" cheese. Only the "Stilton" produced in the counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire are recognized official Stilton manufacturing sites.* Who knew?

Here's a little pictorial link to this past May 25th's Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake that pretty much captures the pure inanity of it all. I'm wondering if being completely sober as a contestant in this mass frivolity is a plus, or minus?;_ylu=X3oDMTEwNGkxZDB1BHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMTAEY29sbwNzazEEdnRpZANfMjA0/SIG=12s671tsk/EXP=1307827609/**http%3a//

Picky, perchance that Double Gloucester cheese goes down well w/ a dram, or two of the blessed Laproaig, and a few crisp saltines? Or are you more partial to the Scottish Lanark Blue?

Picky, I have a feeling that if you were residing on this side of The Pond, in Prof. Mci's. fair city of Baltimore, you just might join in on the current Honfest celebrations at that rapacious capitalist, Ms. Whiting's Hon Cafe, (and environs), just to maintain your reputation as a rabble-rousing, bucking-the-tides-of-convention, rugged individualist............... or maybe not. HA!

Hope you are enjoying your weekend, thus far.

Summer 2011 is almost official. Are you taking advantage of all that extended daylight in the upper latitudinal climes of Europe? Great for avid golfers, tennis enthusiasts, pleine air painters, and nature buffs I would imagine.

*That Stilton cheese info was gleaned from Wikipedia. Written by some Edam or Gouda lover I suspect.

Ta! Ta!


It wasn't quite a boycott, Alex, more an understanding of the state of my ancient bones. I do like double gloucester, although a good cheddar - yes, I know, everyone eats cheddar - takes some beating. Stylton is the king of cheeses - say what you like, you French - and it goes handsomely with a single malt (although most sublimely with port, of course).

Stilton with a Y? Rubbish!

Never been, never will. Besides a general dislike for Ms. Whiting, I think the whole Hon thing is overblown, silly, and insulting to the true hons of Baltimore. The only reason I pay attention to the existence of this commercial gathering, is that it prevents my parking anywhere near my church for the service tomorrow morning, and is therefore a personal annoyance.

I myself prefer the Monty Python Cheese Shoppe sketch.

"I said what needed to be said"

No, Mr. McIntyre, you said what you wanted to say yet you continually condescend to those of us who say what we want to say simply because we differ.

This is not a small group of folk upset by Whiting. NPR did a piece on her actions, papers across the country carried the issue, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter tweets... this matters to a great deal of people, people who are related to or are themselves the maligned audience of Denise Whiting.

You not only misrepresent Whiting, you misrepresent us. Not one of us is anti-profit and, contrary to your sad little poking, many of us own businesses. We are not disgruntled, most of us are not suburbanites, we do not begrudge Whiting her living. Her hubris is what trips her up again and again. Baltimore is not a town of hubris. We have a lot to be proud of and we are, we just don’t get off on rubbing your face in it. Personally, it’s her degrading portrayal of women that catches in my crawl.

Why you are so protective of this is becoming kind of suspect. My grandfather (husband to a college grad hon, btw) worked for the News American. He would be ashamed of someone like you using your own personal bias to deride good people with strong passions standing up for themselves.

Perhaps you should trot on back to Kentucky and make fun of the women in your town. Please do let us know how that goes over. Shame on you, Mr. McIntyre. Again.

I appreciate your response to my comment, Mr. McIntyre.

A few thoughts: Life has taught me that when the rage of others seems disproportionate it's wise to assume there's something I'm not just not getting, to hug humility rather than leap to arrogance, and to set about educating myself, especially when I'm not a member of the enraged tribe. You're not a woman, you are not of Hampden, you are not working class, you don't seem to have any hons in your family tree. So, a gentle plea: more listening, less judging.

Thanks for offering more-than-flippant thoughts about what might be fueling the anger, although, you've only scratched the surface. The reasons for citizen outrage over Ms. Whiting's branding strategies merit exploration and discussion.

You could help with that. I cling to the belief that the point of what you do for a living, the point of a city newspaper, is to provide facts and opinions and encourage productive debate about matters relevant to the common good. You're the Fourth Estate! We need your best game. We don't need mockery, especially of citizen efforts to engage around the issues embedded in this conflict.

You almost nail it when you observe that DW is an agressive business women who has taken legal steps to protect her brand.

I'm all for agressive, legally savvy businesswomen. But to maximize brand success, DW needs to hone the "Hon" image in precise, specific ways. Then she needs to make that brand image as universal and exclusive as possible. That's what branding requires.

But it seems profoundly wrong when someone is able to use trademark rights to brand a class of people and to usurp a broad cultural heritage for her singular economic gain. (An examination of the "trickle-down" benefits that some other enterprises -- Hampden businesses, Honfest sponsors, the City itself? -- is a story I'm still waiting to read.)

Are you really at peace with the idea that Ms. Whiting can trademark a word that represents a class of human beings, then systematically craft a narrow stereotype of that class of people, and, by virtue of trademark power and festival license, promote that stereotype in Hampden, Baltimore and beyond? Where else in the world has that happened? (That's not rhetorical; I keep trying to find another example.)

Since strengthening her brand demands that Ms. Whiting promote her stereotype as widely as possible and by diverse means, regardless of those whom it offends, it is certain to provoke lasting enmity and discord.

Protesters may give up, the issue may fade from light. But I really hope that The Sun -- and you ARE a member of that tribe -- does its part to empower concerned citizens to carry this forward to a healthier civic resolution.

Andrea the Eloquent,

What a pure pleasure to read your most thoughtful, balanced, and most well-stated position on the ongoing 'hon' issue, w/ your most convincing rebuttal, of sorts, pretty much targeting the well-meaning argument of our generally esteemed blogmeister, Prof. McI..

I have to basically echo the earlier expressed kind sentiments of regular blogger Picky, and applaud you for your reserved, yet forceful, and cogent argument, while managing to maintain the utmost civility, avoidance of finger-pointing and blame-gaming re/ the testy issue at hand.

Admittedly, perhaps in my earlier posts I tended to minimize the import of this seemingly very local, Baltimore-centric brouhaha, but in reading and absorbing the gist of your most eloquent defense of women's dignity, as well as the basic rights of those who wish to fairly pursue open-market entrepreneurship, I can now appreciate that there are larger, more broad-based ethical, and moral lessons to be learned here, in what at first blush may appear to us 'outsiders' to be just a minor, local, inconsequential publicly-aired tiff.

Sadly, the hotter-heads, and the loudest, most abrasive voices from the so-called 'barbarian' fringes tend to get most of the media coverage, while the cooler-tempered, more reasonable folk, like yourself, Andrea, might get shorter shrift.

Thankfully, there are forum's like this very blog where sane and generally civil, civically concerned, and committed individuals can bring intelligence and compassion to the fore, and in so doing, both enlighten, and enrich us all. Even us Left Coasters. HA!

Thanks again Andrea.


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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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