Baltimore accent

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The Baltimore accent, also known as Baltimorese (sometimes pseudophonetically written Baldimorese, Bawlmerese, or Ballimerese), commonly refers to the accent and dialect of Mid-Atlantic American English that originated among the white blue-collar residents of South and Southeast Baltimore, Maryland. The accent and the Philadelphia accent resemble each other in several regards.[1]

At the same time, there is considerable linguistic diversity within Baltimore, which complicates the notion of a singular “Baltimore accent.”[2] There are numerous accents within the urban landscape of Baltimore City with Appalachian, African American, Chesapeake, and Eastern Shore influences including many others. According to linguists, the accent and dialect of African American Baltimoreans is different than the "hon" variety that is popularized in the media as being spoken by white blue-collar Baltimoreans.[1]

The farther one gets from Baltimore, the more the local speech is influenced by other geographic and cultural factors. For example, the speech of Western Maryland is influenced by Appalachia, Northeast Maryland by Delaware Valley, and the Eastern Shore of Maryland by the Tidewater accent. White working-class families who migrated out of Baltimore city along the Maryland Route 140 and Maryland Route 26 corridors brought local pronunciations with them, creating colloquialisms that make up the Baltimore accent.


The Baltimore accent that originated among white blue-collar residents closely resembles blue-collar Philadelphia-area English pronunciation in many ways. These two cities are the only major ports on the Eastern Seaboard never to have developed nonrhotic speech among European American speakers; they were greatly influenced in their early development by Hiberno-English, Scottish English, and West Country English. Due to the significant similarity between the speeches of Baltimore, Philadelphia, Delaware and southern New Jersey, some sociolinguists refer to them collectively as the Mid-Atlantic dialect.[3]


  • // shifts to [ɘʊ] or even [eʊ]. When word-final and spelled as -ow, it is pronounced like /ə/, resulting in spellings like pilla for pillow and winda for window.
  • // fronts to [ɛɔ] or [æɔ].
  • u-fronting occurs, where the vowel // can be fronted to [ʉu].[4]
  • No cot–caught merger: The words cot /ɑ/ and caught /ɔ/ do not rhyme, with the latter vowel maintaining a raised position. Likewise, the word on rhymes with dawn and not don.
  • As in Philadelphia, the word water is often pronounced as wooder [ˈwʊɾəɻ] or, more uniquely, [ˈwɔɻɾəɻ].
  • As in most Mid-Atlantic cities, short A is pronounced with a phonemic split: for example, the word sad /æ/ does not rhyme with the word mad /eə/. Pronunciation is dependent upon a complex system of rules that differ from city to city.[5] /æ/ Tensing is also common in the Mid-Atlantic Region, with speakers in Baltimore adapting the Philadelphia pattern on intervocalic vowels.[6] For more details on the Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore systems see phonemic /æ/ tensing in the Mid-Atlantic region or click "show" below.
The Baltimore/Philadelphia short-a split compared to the
New York City short-a split and General American /æ/ tensing
Environment Example
Baltimore &

& Midland
New York City
Syllable type
/r/ open
arable, arid, barrel, barren, carry, carrot, charity, clarity, Gary, Harry, Larry, marionette, maritime, marry, marriage, paragon, parent, parish, parody, parrot, etc.; this feature is determined by the presence or absence of the Mary-marry-merry merger
lax [æ] tense
lax [æ]
/m/, /n/ closed
Alexander, answer, ant, band, can (the metal object), can't, clam, dance, family, ham, hamburger, hand, handy, man, manly, pants, plan, planning, ranch, sand, slant, tan, understand, etc.; in Philadelphia, began, ran, and swam alone remain lax
tense [eə] tense [eə]
amity, animal, can (the verb), Canada, ceramic, gamut, hammer, janitor, manager, manner, Montana, panel, planet, profanity, salmon, Spanish, etc.
lax [æ] lax [æ]
/b/, /d/, /dʒ/, /g/,
/ʃ/, /v/, /z/, /ʒ/
add, agriculture, ash, badge, bag, bash, cab, cash, clad, crag, dad, drab, fad, flag, glad, grab, mad, magnet, plaid, rag, sad, sag, smash, tab, tadpole, tag, etc.; in NYC, this environment has a lot of variance and many exceptions to the rule; in Philadelphia, bad, mad, and glad alone become tense
lax [æ] tense [eə]
/f/, /s/, /θ/ closed
ask, basket, bath, brass, casket, cast, class, craft, daft, glass, grass, half, laugh, laughter, mask, mast, math, pass, past, path, plastic, wrath etc.
tense [eə]
all other instances of /æ/
act, agony, allergy, apple, aspirin, athlete, avid, back, bat, brat, café, cafeteria, cap, cashew, cat, Catholic, chap, clap, classy, dragon, fashion, fat, flap, gap, gnat, latch, magazine, mallet, map, mastiff, match, maverick, pack, pal, pallet, passive, rabid, racket, rally, rat, sack, sat, Saturn, savvy, slack, slap, tackle, talent, trap, travel, etc.
lax [æ] lax [æ]
The NYC, Philadelphia, and Baltimore dialects' rule of tensing /æ/ in certain closed-syllable environments also applies to words inflectionally derived from those closed-syllable /æ/ environments that now have an open-syllable /æ/. For example, in addition to pass being tense (according to the general rule), so are its open-syllable derivatives passing and passer-by, but not passive.
  • The /ɑr/ vowel in words like start is often raised and backed, resulting in a vowel close to /ɔ/. Likewise, /ɔr/ as in bore can shift as high as /ʊər/ as in boor. This pattern has also been noted to occur in Philadelphia and New York.[7]
  • Canadian raising occurs for // before voiceless consonants, as in Philadelphia; for instance, the word like [lʌik] begins with a higher nucleus than live [laɪv].[7]
  • On the other hand, // becomes [ɑ] before /r/; e.g., fire is pronounced as [fɑɻ], in which a popular Baltimore Christmas joke: "Why were the three Wise men covered with soot?" "Because they came from afar."
  • [ə] is often eliminated entirely from a word; e.g. Annapolis = Naplis, cigarette = cigrette, company = compny.


  • Th–stopping occurs, where the dental fricatives /θ, ð/ may be realized as stops (/t, d/ respectively); for instance, this may sound more like dis.[8]
  • L–vocalization is common. The sound /l/ is often replaced by the semivowel or glide [w] and/or [o] or [ʊ]. Pronunciation of words like middle and college become [ˈmɪdo] and [ˈkɑwɪdʒ] respectively.
  • Epenthetic /r/ often occurs; notably, wash is pronounced as [wɑɻʃ], popularly written as warsh, and Washington is pronounced as Warshington.
  • As is common in many US dialects, /t/ is frequently elided after /n/, thus hunter is pronounced [ˈhʌnɚ].
  • Elision is common.


The following is a list of words and phrases used in the Baltimore area that are used much less or differently in other American English dialects.

  • bixicated – referring to someone who is silly or simple.
  • bureau - commonly pronounced /ˈbɪər/ (e.g., Federal Beer-o of Investigation).
  • d(ay)own the ocean – acceptable in place of "down to/on/at the ocean", whereas ocean most likely refers to Ocean City, Maryland. More commonly shortened to "d(ay)owny ocean.
  • hon – a popular term of endearment, often used at the end of a sentence (short for "honey"). This phrase has been a popular marker of Baltimore culture, as represented in the annual Honfest summer festival and in landmarks such as the Hontown store and the Café Hon restaurant.[9]
  • "lor" for "little" is also a feature of Black Baltimore speech[10]
  • mirror - commonly pronounced "mere" or "mere-roe"
  • natty boh – local slang for the beer originally brewed in Baltimore, National Bohemian.
  • oil - commonly pronounced "awl" or "ool" (rhymes with pool)
  • pavement (commonly pronounced "payment") – means "sidewalk" (which is used rarely).
  • rey” for “ready” is associated with Baltimore users of Black Twitter.[11]
  • O's – refers to the MLB team the Baltimore Orioles - frequently used: "dem O's".
  • ok – Commonly used involuntarily to begin sentences, with the O often dropped and pronounced Kay.
  • went up (shortened from "went up to heaven") - commonly used when an appliance dies; e.g., our refrigerator went up
  • yo - as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun[12][2]
  • preference of nuffin over nuttin for nothing is common in Baltimore and DC[11]

Ethnic variation[edit]

According to linguists, the "hon" dialect that is popularized in the media and that derives historically from the speech of by White blue-collar residents of South, and Southeast Baltimore is not the only accent spoken in the region. There is also a particular Baltimore accent found among Black Baltimoreans. For example, among Black speakers, Baltimore is pronounced more like "Baldamore," as compared to "Bawlmer." Other notable phonological characteristics include vowel centralization before /r/ (such that words such as "carry" and "parents" are often pronounced as "curry" or "purrents") and the centralization of /ɑ/ to /ə/, particularly in the word "dog," often pronounced as "dug," and "frog," as "frug."[2] [13] The accent and dialect of African-American Baltimoreans also share features of African American English.[13]

Notable examples of native speakers[edit]

Lifelong speakers[edit]

In popular culture[edit]


The films of John Waters, many of which have been filmed in and around Baltimore, often attempt to capture the Baltimore accent, particularly the early films. For example, John Waters uses his own Baltimore accent in the commentary during his film Pink Flamingos.[14] John Travolta's character in the 2007 version of John Waters's Hairspray spoke with a thick East Baltimore accent which may sound exaggerated to non-Baltimoreans. Likewise, several of the films of Barry Levinson are set in and around Baltimore during the 1940s-1960s, and employ the Baltimore accent. Michael Tucker who was born and raised in Baltimore, speaks with a West Baltimore accent.


Television drama series Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire were both set in Baltimore, with both series including actors who are native White and Black Baltimoreans.[15] In an early episode of the former ("Three Men and Adena"), a suspect, Risley Tucker, describes how he can tell whereabouts in or around the city a person comes from simply by whether they pronounce the city's name as "Balti-maw", "Balti-moh", or "Bawl-mer".[16]

In Season 4, Episode 7 of The Tracey Ullman Show, Baltimore actor Michael Tucker portrayed father to Ullman's JoJo. The skit was set in a Baltimore row house. Tucker advised Ullman to "take a Liverpool accent and Americanize it." The episode called, "The Stoops" begins with Tracey washing her marble stoops which are the most common small porches attached to most Baltimore town homes (called row houses in Baltimore):

Elizabeth Banks parodied the accent while playing Avery Jessup as the spokesperson for the fictional in a flashback scene in the "I Do Do" episode of 30 Rock.[17]

Kathy Bates' character on the "Freak Show" season of American Horror Story was inspired by a Baltimore accent.[18][19][20][21]

Whether it was on his ESPN Radio show or SportsCenter at Night, Scott Van Pelt always ended his segments with Tim Kurkjian by mentioning names in a Baltimore accent featuring at least one fronted 'o'.[22]


Singer-songwriter Mary Prankster uses several examples of Baltimore slang in her song, "Blue Skies Over Dundalk," from the album of the same name, including, "There'll be O's fans going downy ocean, hon."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Relevatory Power of Language". Maryland Humanities Council. April 14, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Hold up, 'Hon': Baltimore's black vernacular youthful, dynamic if less recognized than 'Bawlmerese'".
  3. ^ Phonological Atlas of North America
  4. ^ "Dew as you dew: Baltimore Accent and The Wire". Word. The Online Journal on African American English. 2012-08-15. Archived from the original on 2013-07-08. 
  5. ^ New York City and the Mid-Atlantic States
  6. ^ Ash, Sharon. 2002. “The Distribution of a Phonemic Split in the Mid-Atlantic Region: Yet More on Short a.” In “Selected Papers from NWAV 30,” edited by Sudha Arunachalam, Elsi Kaiser, Daniel Ezra Johnson, Tara Sanchez, and Alexander Williams. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 8.3: 1–15. http://
  7. ^ a b Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2005). The Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change. Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-020683-8. 
  8. ^ Template:Cite url= A Mid student:RS01.pdf
  9. ^ Rizzo, M. (2010). Hon-ouring the past: play-publics and gender at Baltimore's HonFest. International Journal Of Heritage Studies, 16(4-5), 337-351.
  10. ^ "How Baltimore talks". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2017-12-02. 
  11. ^ a b Jones, T. (2015) Toward a description of African American Vernacular English dialect regions using “Black Twitter.” American Speech, 90(4): 403-440. doi:10.1215/00031283-3442117
  12. ^ Stotko, E. M., & Troyer, M. (2007). A new gender-neutral pronoun in Baltimore, Maryland: A preliminary study. American Speech: A Quarterly of Linguistic Usage, 82(3), 262.
  13. ^ a b DeShields, Inte'a. "Baldamor, Curry, and Dug': Language Variation, Culture, and Identity among African American Baltimoreans". Podcast. Retrieved 17 July 2011. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Kaltenbach, Chris. "21 actors who appeared on both 'Homicide' and 'The Wire'". Retrieved 2017-12-02. 
  16. ^ Manas Burna (2016-02-27), Homicide S01E05 Three Men and Adena, retrieved 2017-12-02 
  17. ^ The actual 30 Rock scene involving Elizabeth Banks' parody of the Baltimore accent.
  18. ^ Bartel, Jordan (October 15, 2014). "'American Horror Story': The curious case of Kathy Bates' Baltimore-ish accent". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 25 November 2015. 
  19. ^ Schremph, Kelly (October 8, 2014). "Kathy Bates' Accent on 'AHS: Freak Show' Is an Enigma That Needs to Be Unraveled". Bustle. Retrieved 25 November 2015. 
  20. ^ Kathy Bates [@MsKathyBates] (9 October 2014). "@gliattoT People online. Just to clear up the mystery, my accent is Baltimore not "broad Canadian."  :-)" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  21. ^ "Kathy Bates's accent is the strangest on TV. So we asked a linguist to place it". Vox. Retrieved 2017-12-02. 
  22. ^ "Scott Van Pelt uses his Baltimore accent to turn Tim Kurkjian into a giggling child". For The Win. 2015-09-15. Retrieved 2017-11-30. 

External links[edit]