Metzger has no clue why Ann Arborites say “baw,” but he says they were saying it in 1923 when his parents arrived. And he quickly puts down the oft-repeated rumor that “baw” is a pronunciation brought over by the Swabian farmers who settled Ann Arbor and started many local businesses. “I speak Swabian—we have an entirely different dialect. When my family goes over to Swabia we get along fine there; when we go up to Berlin no one can understand us. But we pronounce ‘Bach’ like everyone else in Germany. That ‘baw’ didn’t come from Swabia.”
He says his family, when they immigrated, just adopted the local pronunciation of “baw” when speaking English, but at home, speaking German, they’d say “Bach” the German way.
Anne Curzan, U-M linguistics professor, doesn’t know anything about our town’s pronunciation of “baw,” but she concurs that there was plenty of anti-German sentiment during World War I. In Cincinnati, she says, they changed “German” Street to “English” Street, and in various places around the country sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage,” and hamburgers became “liberty sandwiches.”