I’ve been a fan of John McIntyre’s hard-boiled tales of copyediting for well over a decade, and his brandishing of a word heretofore unknown to me (not to mention the OED) in the second paragraph of his latest post gives me an excuse to link it here:

Campus is crawling with undergraduates, half of them scurrying to the Eisenhower Library, the other half sashaying off to Charles Village bars. Scattered among them are union goons from the Ph.D. program. I have my eye on them, all of them.

My name is McIntyre. I carry a badge. And an espantoon.

According to Wikipedia:

The espantoon is an ornate straight wooden baton, equipped with a long swiveled leather strap for twirling. It originated in, and is still strongly associated with, the Baltimore Police Department, the police department of the city of Baltimore, Maryland, United States. The term is considered distinctly Baltimorean.

And McIntyre is a proud Baltimorean, having served the Sun long and well until it went the way of almost all newspapers and was eviscerated by vile profiteering. Long may he blog!


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    More on espantoon history and the legendary-in-some-circles Joseph “Nightstick Joe” Hlafka here:

  2. PlasticPaddy says

    ESPONTON, subst. masc.
    Arme d’hast, demi-pique utilisée du XVIe au XIXe siècle par les bas-officiers d’infanterie et par les marins lors de l’abordage des vaisseaux.;s=3843692775;

    Was the English word used also or maybe first by harbor police?

  3. cuchuflete says

    Wow! Nostalgia overload. It’s suddenly 1969 again. I’m walking out of the (Milton) Eisenhower Library a little after midnight, having been evicted, along with the other Hopkins PhD students, from our sub-basement carrels. We cross the burned out lawn and pass through the brick gateway into Charles Village. If there were bars in those days, they’ve faded into memory.

    Our mini-mob trundles towards an old high rise apartment building, part of the Johns Hopkins Slumlord Amalgamated Real Estate Enterprise. Before we descend into the subterranean hole called The Grad Club (National Bo long necks, twenty-five cents), we stop to trade friendly barbs with the Baltimore cop stationed there, presumably to protect the fine citizens of Bawlmer from bearded, tipsy almost docs. He twirls what most of us thought was a nightstick.

    One of our mob says something stupid, like, “Nice truncheon!”. Our uniformed guardian patiently explains that it is an espantoon. With his native accent, the ooooo of the final syllable goes on for a while.

  4. a word heretofore unknown to me (not to mention the OED)

    There is an espontoon already in the OED1 (see here), marked with… †. The OED has a citation relating to the Lewis & Clarke expedition. More in that regard here and especially here.

  5. Lewis, with his customarily unstable orthography, apparently spells it espantoon in his entry here (5th February Tuesday 1805), describing a weapon favored by Native American nations, which seems to have been given the standard name spontoon tomahawk in modern accounts.

  6. The OED needs to pay a visit to Bawlmer!

    And thanks for that wonderful reminiscence, cuchuflete.

  7. ktschwarz says

    unknown to me (not to mention the OED) — but not to Merriam-Webster, as the Baltimore Police Museum, at cuchuflete’s link, is quick to point out. They have espantoon, espontoon, and spontoon as three separate headwords (well, espontoon is only a cross-reference to spontoon).

    There is an espontoon already in the OED1 — as another police museum page also reminds us. I’m surprised that the approximate search function does not suggest that when searching for “espantoon”.

  8. David Marjanović says

    bearded, tipsy almost docs

    ABDs (all but dissertation).

    police museum page

    Spot the juristiction. English /sb sd sg/ confirmed once again.

    Also, near the end, there’s a chapter that’s “Written by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a division of CoPilot by Bing”.

  9. natty bo, like the espontoon, persists!
    i can’t speak to the antiquity of the name i know it by (cuchuflete, do you know when it lost its “onal”?), but i always appreciate what happens to the brand names of regional beers, from gansett to genney cream.

  10. I like their timeline (“Does anybody remember anything about the ’70s and ’80s?”), but it doesn’t mention the history of the nickname, and neither does the fairly extensive Wikipedia page.

  11. Keith Ivey says

    In my experience (including being one) the term “ABD” applies to people who have left grad school, not to those who are still in a PhD program.

  12. In mine (also one) as well.

  13. cuchuflete says

    As a card carrying abd, I concur with my betters, above.
    To rozele’s query, I don’t know when truncation happened. I stayed in BALL-tee-more/ BAWL-mer until the mid 1970s, and only heard nashnul bo, with that very round Chesapeake O, and nashnul preme. There was another local beer, too vile to drink, with a wonderful brewery building.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m not sure if “very round” is the best description of that “Chesapeake O.” It’s very fronted, and what the lips are doing is nothing like what my quondam German teacher meant when she said “runden Sie die Lippen!” when trying to teach us how to produce certain umlauted vowels.

  15. CuConnacht says

    I think the Baltimore o is a triphthong starting with [ɛ], or something close to that.

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    @CuC: yes, and you can’t produce the opening [ɛ] if your lips/mouth are/is rounded.

Speak Your Mind