“American Horror Story”: Welcome to the Freak Show, hon!

The Curious case of Kathy Bates’ Baltimore-ish accent

By Jordan Bartel (The Baltimore Sun, Oct. 15, 2014)

Kathy Bates channels her inner hon in "American Horror Story: Freak Show"

Kathy Bates channels her inner hon in “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

Her beard may be the least interesting aspect of Kathy Bates’ character on “American Horror Story: Freak Show.”

Can we discuss Ethel Darling’s unique accent? More directly: Is that some form of Baltimorese?

The signs are there: There have been quite a few “hons,” super-rounded vowels and other word pronunciations that you can imagine coming from the mouths of lifelong Baltimoreans.

We’re not the only ones who have noticed it. Chatter about the accent has been incessant since the show premiered last week.

One fan, Natalie Sermon, @miznattie, tweeted directly to Bates: “Your bearded lady and her evident Baltimore accent is fan-freak-in-tastic!! #heavyontheO #AmericanHorrorStoryFreakShow

We’re assuming Bates is alluding to this part of the Times’ “AHS” review: “and [there’s] Kathy Bates as the bearded lady, whose accent wanders around the Southern states, periodically landing on something vaguely Appalachian.”

Really, New York Times? “The Southern states”? Not quite.

Thankfully, the good folks at Flavorwire have investigated the accent. A recently published piece, titled “Where the Hell Is Kathy Bates’ ‘American Horror Story’ Accent From? A Linguist Explains,” gives an overview of writers trying to discern the accent’s origins.

Vulture’s Brian Moylan calls it a “Baltimore honk.” Time magazine’s James Poniewozik describes it as being from “somewhere in the greater Philadelphia area with a couple of detours to the south.”

Most bravely, New York magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz dubs it “Wisconsin Mennonite, perhaps.”

But Flavorwire’s linguistic expert, Columbia University professor John McWhorter, sees nothing but Charm City.

“She’s trying to do Baltimore, especially old-time working class Baltimore,” McWhorter wrote Flavorwire over email. “It’s a little shaky — she has a way of slightly overdoing accents.”

For the record, we’ve reached out to FX to see if Bates has time to discuss the inspiration for her accent. Plus, we have beauty tip questions for the bearded lady.

Apart from that, maybe “American Horror Story: Freak Show” will eventually reveal Ethel Darling’s backstory. Did she grow up amongst the Hons of Hampden? Perhaps her father was a worker on the docks who didn’t appreciate his hirsute daughter?

We’re eagerly waiting, hon.

“American Horror Story: Freak Show” airs 10 p.m. Wednesdays on FX.

*** Excerpt from “Entertainment Weekly” Interview (Oct. 10, 2014) ***

EW: What is Ethel’s accent? Where is she from?

RYAN MURPHY(AHS writer): Kathy came up with that idea which I love. She thought that Ethel would be from Baltimore. So we’re saying in that period the two most famous things to come out of Baltimore were Kathy Bates’ character and Wallis Simpson. She worked really hard on her Baltimore-ese. Somebody watched a screening of the first episode and said, “I thought Kathy Bates was out of a John Waters movie.” And I’m like “You’re right!” Because that’s set in Baltimore and back in the day, the accents were even thicker. But I love that. I love when she says “spektakular.”

*** Related Bawmer Links, Hon ***

How to Speak with a Baltimore Accent (eHow)

Dictionary of Baltimorese

Lexicon of Bawlamerese (www.baltimorehon.com)

Baltimore accent (Wikipedia)

Hey Hon! Yew, too, can talk in Bawlmerese
(Michael Olesker, Baltimore Sun)

The Voice of Baltimore (www.voiceofbalimore.com)

Hi, I’m Mr. Ray! (CineGraphic Studios)

Polk Audio – Baltimore Speak (YouTube)

Top 5 Baltimore Accents (Baltimore Fishbowl)


Maryland Accents: (S**t Marylanders Say) (YouTube)

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