Monday, May 29, 2023

I will never be a true Baltimorean

When I accepted the offer of a job on The Baltimore Sun's copy desk in 1986, my wife and I moved to an apartment in Towson, two years later buying a brick ranch house in Northeast Baltimore. But thirty-five years later, as a resident of Baltimore, I cannot claim to be a Baltimorean. 

First of all, I do not have grandparents who were born here. 

I did not attend City College or Poly or any other Baltimore high school. 

My indifference to the Orioles and the Ravens is complete, now that I no longer have to sit up waiting for their interminable games to end to get final scores into the paper. 

Perhaps most seriously, though I enjoy Maryland crab soup, I dislike picking crabs. The process is reminiscent, not in a good way, of dissection in high school biology class, and the reward of the crab meat is not commensurate to the effort required to acquire it. Not even accompanying glasses of beer make the process alluring.

Oh, there are many things I appreciate about Baltimore: the heron I occasionally see on my walks down the hill to Herring Run, the Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art, my progressive parish (Memorial Episcopal in Bolton Hill), the now-closed and lamented Hamilton Tavern, the Pratt Library, our day-drinking group at Zen West. 

But really, three decades and more later, I'm still an auslander, an expatriate Kentuckian who responds to the blooming fragrance of the locust tress in spring as a reminder of the locust trees on the other side of the Alleghenies. (My wife discerns occasional traces of my original Kentucky accent, but I would not, nor should I, ever attempt the Baltimore accent.) 

Living in a place which, comfortable as it has been, is yet not quite a good fit reminds us that we are all pilgrims, finding our way through the world. 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Things The Baltimore Sun says are iconic

Charles Grayson Gilbert, subject of iconic newspaper photo ...

Iconic ‘Caddyshack’ yacht is for sale.

Berger cookies run low on shelves around Baltimore as iconic baker waits for repair.

Westminster officials approve new contract for repairs to city’s iconic clock tower.

C.P. Crane power plant demolished, toppling iconic stacks.

Bye, Hon: Iconic Baltimore cafe closing after 30 years.

Rutschman and other Orioles players hung out with the kids in attendance, even sliding down the iconic hill at Lamade Stadium.

National Treasure won an enthralling finish as tens of thousands of racing and concert fans flocked and reveled at Baltimore’s most iconic annual event.

To celebrate Preakness week, the McCormick & Co. iconic seasoning is offering Old Bay lovers a chance to spice things up with a free tattoo. 

Today, racing remains historic and entertaining and, perhaps most notably in Maryland, brings the state its most iconic annual event, the Preakness.

The red scrapings, which pose a threat to public health, especially for children, were found at a day care, a playground and homes within a half-mile radius of the iconic tower.

Cowser was faster, completing his metaphorical Kessel Run in fewer parsecs by finishing off Han Solo’s iconic ship in September. 

Turning around the beleaguered Harborplace — considered an iconic part of the Inner Harbor ...

The special edition brew “represents the pairing of two iconic brands coming together to celebrate Baltimore."

The renowned Italian vocalist, who is blind, is one of the most iconic and recognizable classical voices in music worldwide. 

Warner said the musical’s songs are iconic, and anyone who remembers the decade is almost certain to find themselves singing along to the title track.

Attman’s Delicatessen, the iconic Baltimore deli that got its start on “Corned Beef Row” more than a century ago, will open a new location in Harbor Point.

The trio of iconic R&B performers with a slate of hits and harmonies dating back to the 90s will perform at Baltimore’s CFG Bank Arena on July 29.

 The zipper wig is one of four iconic hairpieces she designed for Kim and then recreated for “The Culture: Hip-Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century.” ... She created iconic ‘dos worn by hip-hop royalty Mary J. Blige and Lauryn Hill — looks still copied today.

Instead, it narrowly cleared the iconic wall, leaving the Orioles with a stunning 9-8 loss on the walk-off home run.

Enough, already? 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Fixing the blame

 Thirty years ago, under John S. Carroll, The Baltimore Sun refined its policy on corrections. Because production of the paper was a collective effort, The Sun took collective responsibility when errors of fact made it into print, not assigning individual responsibility. The Sun regretted the error, and that was that. 

The one exception: A correction assigned responsibility when The Sun had been given erroneous information. 

Reporters disliked this policy and regularly groused about it. Their complaint, and it was reasonable, went like this: "It's my byline on the story, and when a reader sees a correction that doesn't include 'because of an editing error,' the reader thinks I made a mistake, and it reflects badly on me."

The response to that complaint was that the reader is more concerned with the accuracy of the story than with naming and shaming in the newsroom. If there were to be a "because of an editor's error" correction or a "because of a copy editor's error" correction, why not a "because of reporter's error" correction? Guess which category would be most numerous. 

My own perspective after forty years of editing reporters' copy is that the correction policy left them with undeserved blame for mistakes they did not make. At the same time, my work and the desk's work left them with undeserved merit for more accurate and more literate writing than they in fact produced. 

Consider it a wash. 

Monday, May 8, 2023

Weep no more

Someone has suggested on Twitter that it is time for the Kentucky Derby to dump "My Old Kentucky Home," and as an expatriate Kentuckian, I want to object. The very things that make the song objectionable are the very reasons to keep it.  

The author, Stephen Foster, wrote it and other songs for minstrel shows. Minstrel shows, you will recall, were nineteenth-century entertainments in which white people donned blackface and performed songs and dances that were cartoonish parodies of Black culture, for the amusement of white audiences. In the plaintive song itself, a black family of enslaved people who have been sold down the river recall with nostalgia and grief their happier life back in Kentucky, before hard times came knocking at the door. 

You cannot ask for a better illustration of woke history than the spectacle at the Derby of pudgy men in their ice-cream suits and before-Memorial Day seersucker and their ladies in elaborate millinery singing this song. Recognizing the casual racism pervasive in the past and its unexamined survivals today explains much about the double nature of the Republic. 

My own old Kentucky home, the farm my grandfather inherited from his father, where I roamed the fields as a child, is gone, sold to people better qualified to work the land than I am. It, too, has a double history, illustrated by a property tax receipt from in 1850s showing that my great-great grandfather owned two hundred acres, four horses or mules, and four human beings. If you are a thinking person, you learn to recognize and live with both sides of your history. 

So when the band strikes up on Derby Day, I too will stand and sing of the old Kentucky home, far away, for good and for ill. 


After three decades in Baltimore, a digression.

From time to time some yahoo will suggest replacing "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem, usually with "America the Beautiful" or "God Bless America." 

It's true that Francis Scott Key's text objects to British encouragement of slave rebellions during the War of 1812, but that's in a verse we never sing, and he brings in God in the last verse, which we also never sing. The reason to keep the national anthem is that the only part we actually sing does not go in for triumphalism but asks us a question: Have we lived up to the ideals we proclaimed at the founding? That is a question worth asking every day.

As to the others, "America the Beautiful," with its insipid melody, keeps dragging God in, and "God Bless America," though Irving Berlin could write a catchier tune, does the same. God has many nations to look after, and it would be selfish of us to monopolize the Deity.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Uneasy lies the head that is coronated

As far as I can tell from online comments, both monarchists and republicans appear to be spluttering over people saying that Charles III has been "coronated." 

"The word is 'crowned,' not 'coronated.' " " 'Coronated' is not a word." " 'Coronated' is a bastard back-formation from 'coronation.' " Someone quotes Paul Brians saying that it only means "crown-shaped" and is legitimately used only in biology. 

I hardly ever recommend that people switch to decaf, but this might be the occasion. 

Coronate has been a word in English since the early 17th century, with a citation from 1626. 

It derives from the Latin coronatus, past participle of coronare, "to crown." 

The Oxford English Dictionary lists it, saying that it is a relatively rare word. Merriam-Webster includes it, defining it as "to crown." Its rarity might be attributed to the lack of a major coronation to cover over the past seventy years.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage quotes The Wall Street Journal of February 9, 1952: "Queen Elizabeth II will probably be coronated sometime between August and the spring of 1953."

So it is a word, an English word in use. 

You do not much like it; you do not like it at all; you despise it and the people who use it. 

Your futile protest has been noted.