Accessibility links

Breaking News

An Extended Lesson in Bawlmerese

Hello. This is Steve Ember. I’ve been asked to do a little recitation in Bawlmerese, and I should say, before I launch into this, that not everyone in Baltimore speaks this way. And there are various degrees of the Bawlmerese accent.

An Extended Lesson in Bawlmerese
An Extended Lesson in Bawlmerese

So I’m going to give it to you full force Bawlmerese, and let’s hope that it does not keep you from visiting Baltimore if English is your second language. Here we go.

When I was growing up over there, we had two famous sports teams, the “O’s” – that’s short for Orioles, the baseball team – and the Colts football team. They played their home games at the old Memorial Stadium. All the fans would enjoy half-smokes and Natty-Boh’s. That was the nickname for our local brew, National Bohemian. It’s not brewed locally anymore, but Baltimore still has Brewers Hill. It’s a landmark.

Mr. Boh looks out over Baltimore from Brewers Hill
Mr. Boh looks out over Baltimore from Brewers Hill

OK, let me stop here and tell you about some of the Baltimore sounds. The Baltimore “O” is probably the most characteristic of these. As you heard me say, “the Colts” for Colts, and the “O’s” which is short for the Orioles baseball team.

Something else that you’ll hear a lot in Baltimore is a kind of “swallowed L.” And you heard a little bit of that when I said “It’s a Landmark.” If you’re around railroad people, they might talk about locomotives.

So, there you have the O and the L and you hear what that sounds like when they’re run together: locomotive.

Now, as a child, I used to love to go downtown with my mother, especially the day after Thanksgiving to look at the electric trains in those wonderful department stores down there on Charles Street and Howard Street. My birthday was a week later, and my folks always got me something new for my train layout. Sometimes even a locomotive!

A locomotive at Baltimore's Penn Station
A locomotive at Baltimore's Penn Station

My folks used to take me to New York on the train. Sometimes we went on the Pennsylvania Railroad, but my favorite was the B and O. That was short for Baltimore and Ohio. I used to love leaving from Mount Royal Station, which had a big, tall clock tower.

Now, you are about to hear something that is so quintessentially Baltimore, we have to include it.

And in the summertime, we’d all go “down-ee-ocean.”

Do you know what that is? Down to the ocean. We’d all go “down-ee-ocean.” That’s what we called Ocean City, over on the Eastern Shore.

But before we left, we’d always stop over at Read’s Drug Store to buy some Kodak color film, so I could take lots of “pixchurs” with my Brownie Hawkeye camera.

There’s another unique pronunciation that you’ll hear in Baltimore: “pixchur” for “picture” and “keller fillum” for color film.

Then, my Dad would stop at the Esso gas station, fill up the tank, and get the windshield washed and the tires checked.

Ok, there’s a couple of unique Baltimore pronunciations: For wash, you’d say “warsh.” And tire? That would be “tar.” So you’d get the “tars” checked.

He’d make sure to obey the speed limit, because no one likes to be pulled over by the police.

"Da POE-leece" directs downtown traffic
"Da POE-leece" directs downtown traffic

OK, there’s another one. The public safety in Baltimore is taken care of by the Police and the Fire Department. So there you hear the Baltimore O in Police, and the pronunciation of the “ire” sound like “fire” or “tire.” It’s the “Far” Department.

If your house catches on fire, you’ve got to call the Fire Department.

And, for folks staying home, if their houses didn’t have air conditioning, they’d sit outside on their marble steps – we called them “stoops” – and talk to the neighbors.

Baltimore takes great pride in their marble steps that adorn the row houses. For some reason, they call the marble steps a “stoop.” And there, we get to another Baltimore sound, the “oo” as in “stoop.” It comes out “stewp.”

Row houses with marble steps
Row houses with marble steps

Another fun thing to do was to sit out on the patio and eat steamed crabs. We’d crack them open with those big wooden hammers and eat all the meat in the claws and wash it down with cold Natty-Boh’s, and listen to our favorite music on the radio.

Now, when I grew up, I did not have a terribly strong Baltimore accent, but I did have a bit of the Baltimore “O.” And my first job in radio was for a station called WWIN, and it called itself “WWIN Radio.” Well, as a conscientious young broadcaster, I would record myself, just to make sure I wasn’t getting into bad habits. And I heard myself saying “WINN Radio.” [Baltimore accented O]

And, of course, I started over-compensating, so it came out “WWIN Radiohhhh” [overly stressed rounded O]. But, by and by, it landed where it should, and I was able to say “WWIN Radio.” [Normal sounding O]

So there’s that Baltimore “O” once again. It’s a hard one to lose, folks.


Baltimore can sometimes get a whole lot of snow in the winter, so you need to have good snow tires on the car, so when you step on the accelerator, you won’t be slipping and sliding all over the road.

Mount Royal Station with its clock tower
Mount Royal Station with its clock tower

That’s another Baltimore pronunciation that I remember from childhood. When you got in the car – When you started the engine – you stepped on the “exhilarator.”


And in the summertime, you need to fill the power mower with some gasoline so you can mow the lawn, and be careful you don’t hit the flowers along the walk. Then you put the power mower back in the shed. Be sure to close up the gasoline can, so you don’t have to call the Fire Department. And then, you go inside the house and wash your hands in the bathroom sink, and go put something on the stove for dinner.

You just heard another couple of Baltimore sounds, the hard “th” as in “bathroom” or “with.” A lot of Baltimoreans will make that into an “f.” And that’s why I said “baffroom.” You also heard the “double-o,” the “oo” sound, which might get turned into an “ew” sound, as in “baffrewm.”

And then, there is the thing you “warsh” your hands in, the “zink.” That’s a sink.

And you put something on the stove. There’s the “O” sound once again.

And, just about to wrap up here – This is one of my favorite expressions that I remember from my early years in Baltimore – my teen years, actually…

One day, I asked about my boss, who wasn’t in the office. A girl I worked with said “Oh Barn? He’s haome wid a vars.”

Did you catch that? What she was saying was: “Oh, Byron? He’s home with a virus.” [He’s out sick.]

And that is today’s lesson in Bawlmerese. [Steve repeats in dialect]

I’m Steve Ember