In Other Words: Baltimore's Catchy Phrases

Friday, July 8, 2005

In 2002, Mayor Martin O'Malley initiated the "BELIEVE" project, a multimillion-dollar campaign aimed at engaging the public in the fight against drugs and possibly changing residents' perceptions of themselves through somber white-on-black bumper stickers, buttons and street banners.

That naturally led to abuse in the form of competing stickers (in matching typeface) advising "BEEHAVE," "BE EVIL," "BEEHIVE" and "BLIEVE, HON," the latter two recognizing Bawlmer's famous hairdo and the Bawlmerese penchant for vowel-dropping, word-shortening vernacular.

O'Malley is also responsible for branding Baltimore "The Greatest City in America."

The slogan, frankly, is not up to former mayor (later governor and now state comptroller) William Donald Shaefer's "Charm City" and "Baltimore Is Best," but it's clearly superior to former mayor Kurt Schmoke's "Catch the Spirit" and "The City That Reads" (its unofficial variants included "The City That Bleeds" and "The City That Breeds," referring to Baltimore's teen pregnancy rate, once one of the highest in the nation).

Baltimore's most mysterious booster operated in the mid-'90s, sneaking up to the huge "Welcome to Baltimore" sign on the Baltimore Washington Parkway to add a laminated "Hon" poster. State highway officials would dutifully scrape it off, and Hon Man would just do it again. At one point in 1995, several lawmakers threatened to tie up $1 million in city highway funds unless "Hon" was incorporated into the city's official greeting, leading to "No Hon, No Mon" T-shirts. The Hon Man was never identified, and he hasn't been heard from in years.

-- Richard Harrington

© 2005 The Washington Post Company