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Hon ho-hum

My eminent colleague Richard Gorelick blogs that Cafe Hon proprietress Denise Whiting, evidently under the tutelage of Gordon Ramsay, is abandoning her claim to trademark the word hon.

So now, what was a manufactured controversy a year ago over a matter of minuscule significance* can be, one dares to hope, an extinct controversy. (I suspect, though, that the people who were so weirdly intemperate a year ago yet harbor considerable spleen to vent.)

I have been puzzled throughout by the claim, frequently advanced during the late unpleasantness, that hon is a distinctively Baltimorean word. My wife, who grew up in Ohio, called me “hon” well before we moved to Maryland. And the earliest citation of the word as a term of endearment, a diminutive of honey, in the OED is from a 1906 entry in Dialect Notes, which identifies it as prevalent in northwest Arkansas.


*No, I’m not going to link back to posts about it. If you are ignorant of the Hontroversy, consider yourself fortunate.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:10 PM | | Comments (19)


John, John, John. Again I wonder how you can be so passionate about language, yet so oblivious to how its appropriation in this matter might not be of "minuscule significance." But I've given up trying to school you about that.

Let's chat instead about "manufactured controversy. Shouldn't you call rewrite? This was an authentic, grassroots howl of protest. Some flaws in logic, some lapses in taste, on the part of some protesters do not render the core conflict "manufactured."

It's your prerogative to deem the issue contrived and silly. But at least admit that many of your fellow citizens felt genuine, sustained outrage. I hope that somewhere in your contrarian heart you have grudging respect for those of us celebrating today.

Enjoy your blueberry pancakes when next you visit Cafe Hon, assuming Mr. Ramsay allowed them to remain on the menu. You might want to tip your juice glass to the folks who have had enough visceral understanding of language's power to actually take to the streets over this.

Be proud, professor! You live in a town that got its knickers twisted over a word! Seems to me you should stop condescending and start claiming bragging rights.

Andrea, I wouldn't have you think that I am small-minded. So please accept my congratulations as you celebrate your ability to use freely a word that you have used for years, that you and others used for years unawares after the initial trademark, that you used without any restriction, legal or moral, throughout the late Hontroversy, and that you are now once again as free to use as you always have been.

And free to use without the imposition of a narrow, commercialized and insulting image of a hon being conjured as I speak...the crux of this for me. And for others, its more personal; they've watched a businesswoman lay claim to their heritage, their relatives, themselves. She didn't trademark a word that represents an object. She chose one that represents people -- diverse and real. Surely you have some hazy sense of why this was ill-advised and plain old wrong.

Thanks for the congrats, though,however sauced with sarcasm you meant them. See you on the Avenue.

See what I mean?

Professor, I usually agree with you, but for some reason you seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the hontroversy. This is not small stuff on the order of "its" vs. "it's"--it is an insult that a lot of people take very personally. I am sure that many people were delighted to hear Ms. Whiting say that her business was down 25% since this all erupted.

Apologies...I neglected to attach my name to that second comment. I am "Anonymous."
So, only one spleen venter thus far. There are others aplenty on other sites, however.

An excellent summing-up of the matter at the conclusion of today's Baltimore Sun article:

James B. Astrachan, a trademark law professor, described the relinquishing of a trademark as a routine matter and said Whiting made the right move.

"She's not an ax murderer," Astrachan said. "I think this will go a long way in settling this silly matter."

Well, Mr. Copy Editor, why don't you invite Mr. Trademark Attorney out for a night on the town. You dudes really should take a stroll together in high heels on a waitress's wages. You might rethink your smug dismissal of all of this.

For the upteenth time: Ms. Whiting's vision of "hon" goes beyond use of a colloquial term of endearment. She's hitched it to a sexist and classist image. She's objectified working class women for commercial gain.

While the outrage expressed by many has been emotional rather than intellectual, the animosity won't go away. Because this is way more than a trademark issue.

Ax murderer? Who knows why Lizzie Borden grabbed that hatchet. Maybe her corset was too tight. Constrict a gender and bad stuff happens.

You know, harboring anger of this intensity can't be healthy. Might want to get that seen to.

And, as a practical matter, the more strident the remarks get, the more they start to sound a little batty.

Andrea is becoming scary.

I'm going to have to become more judicious in my blog visits.

Wordville is still a safe place, Eve. They can say pretty much what they like about me, but I don't OK comments that are personal and offensive about other people.

My wife has called me "hon" (among other things) since time immemorial, too. And I am something like 3,500 miles from Baltimore (I think. Probably.).

The equivalent in the West of England is to be called "my lover" - by, sometimes young and rather attractive, and therefore in the circumstances unlikely, ladies serving in shops and pubs. This is somewhat unnerving but nonetheless welcome. I shall attempt to trademark it, and see where that gets me.


First off, great to 'hear' your voice. Missed you, old lad.

In your observation of the West of England salutation peculiarities re/ "sometimes young and attractive" lady shopkeepers, and barkeeps using "my lover", me thinks you may have come under the seductive spell of selective hearing. (Yet I may be totally wrong in this regard.)

Might they have addressed customers as 'my love', rather than the more forward and suggestive, "my lover", as you claim?

I can see where such a greeting of endearment, considering the comely source, might set the average red-blooded adult male's imagination (and libido) into paroxysms of potential carnality, or torrid romance. But 'my love' would seem much more appropriate for most 'normal' public entrepreneur/ client scenarios. No?

Had a rather jolly, voluble, openly-gay col-worker at Warner Bros. Animation back in the early '90s who hailed from my hometown of Toronto, but spent his formative years in his native England, namely Liverpool. Still retaining his charming, Beatles-esque Liverpudlian accent, as our main receptionist at Warner's he would often address his fellow studio colleagues w/ "my love", males and females alike. I found it quite endearing, and harmless. Others were a little less receptive............ homophobic guys in particular. Oh well.

Picky, I'd stay away from any thoughts of trademarking commonly used terms of endearment, considering the major brouhaha this "hon' issue has fomented on this side of the Atlantic------ the palaver that would never die. HA!

Hope all is well w/ you and yours.


P.S.: ---- Any advice for those darn Greeks and Italians? They're sure making a mockery of the European Union, ain't they?

Mama mia!

Years ago, before I was born, some citizens of Baltimore picketed restaurants because they wouldn't serve blacks. In my young adulthood I picketed a restaurant for having a policy of firing gays and lesbians. Is this where the grand tradition of civil disobidience has brought us? Picketing a restaurant over a trademark issue? Really, hon?

In Baltimore stores, shops and diners, I've been called "Babe" so much more often than "Hon" -- and I like it.

Well. Richard, the rest of us can only aspire to be babes (or remember when ...)

Good for you, Richard, but enjoy Babe while you can. One day, you'll be paying for your coffee at the 7-11 and the cashier will call you "Dear" in that voice reserved for old people... Durn! That'll set your day in a downward spiral!

Definitely "lover", Alex. They're rhotic round here, so it's clear as day. Elsewhere in Southern England I might get my love, or just love, or even, yes Eve, the unnerving "dear". Or even "duck". But here it's definitely "My Lover". Oh, there are some places where I get "Sir" now I've reached a certain level of grave silver-haired respectability. I could do without that. "Babe" I am, fortunately, yet to be called.


"My Lover" it definitely is !

As I kind of suspected, I guess I WAS "totally wrong" (NOT "My Love"), and I respectfully defer to your keenly discerning ear re/ the distinction between rhotic and nonrhotic Brit speakers. Let's call that one finally settled.

For me "Babe" definitely has a strong feminine connotation, setting aside our iconic American baseball phenom, "Babe" Ruth, and of course the popular eponymously-named candy bar inspired by the decidedly portly, fun-loving guy w/ the spindly legs, yet w/ unparalleled athletic ability, and boundless charisma.

Having this intrinsic girly air about it, I would imagine most regular guys addressed as "Babe" might cringe a tad, although others may just take it in stride. Kinda would depend on a gent's security in his masculinity, I suspect.

Now to be addressed as "sir" does give one pause as a now-'elder statesman' of sorts (me included), w/ some 'snow-on-the-mountain', some sag in the mug, and perhaps a bit of paunch in the belly; yet coming from an apparently very young and vital lad or lass, it could be taken as a kind of backhand compliment, and come off as endearingly respectful. Shades of an age of civility long gone by, I'm afraid.

Our youngsters today, ironically steeped in the latest social media technologies, at least on this side of The Pond appear to be less formal in their inter-communications, although I could picture a youngish shop clerk perhaps tossing out the occasional "sir", out of elder respect and just plain politeness toward senior folk, in general. Good business practice, as well.

Picky, of course your official Brit "Sirs" from Elton, to Paul, to Sean, to Nick (golfer Faldo) et al, have earned their lofty titles from their distinguished creative, (and athletic) talents and long careers of stellar accomplishment--------- the finest of the UK's unofficial ambassadors of good will, and distinction to the entire world.

Hmm....... 'Sir' Picky does have quite a pleasant ring to it, come to think of it. HA! As a fellow Commonwealian, I'll have to have a private word w/ her Royal Majesty........ or at least one of her perky Corgies. Gives going-to-the-dogs a whole new meaning, no?

At any rate, enough silliness, Your Royal Pickyness........... great to have you back on board again, even though your views and comments are sadly 'numbered'. (Literally)

Darn %$*#@$%!* pay-wall.

Have a super weekend, "Ducky".

Could be a wet one, is all. HA!


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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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