Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"FRISCO" - A Name to Hate? REALLY?

Looking toward the Orchard Hotel in San Francisco - where we stayed last September while I received my prostate cancer treatment at the UCSF Helen Diller Cancer Center . The Powell Ave. cable car is in view.  Needless to say, I fell in love with the city!

According to a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle online the other day, a woman phoned the paper in a literal rage after visiting a museum in the city and finding a work of art partially tagged with the hideous word "Frisco". She fulminated at length expressing how such a travesty could occur and in a place of culture. Have people no shame?

This reminded me of when I first inadvertently used the word "Frisco" in Fairbanks, AK soon after I arrived to take up a research assistantship in the fall of 1985. A Ph.D. plasma physics classmate named Jeff Collier heard it, and went ballistic.

"FRISCO? The name is NOT 'FRISCO'! It is San Francisco! Please, PUH-leeze, never use the word 'Frisco' again for San Francisco! It is gauche and cruel to us who are natives!"

Whoa! Seriously?  Brother, you need to take a valium! It's just a name!

But is it just a name? Not to old line San Franciscans who detest 'Frisco' with a passion. Which elicits the question of why there's such an emotional response to a name. According to the Chronicle piece, the trouble began in the old days when the city was a major port and all manner of louts ("shrimpers, crimpers, criminals and sailors" ) and low- class people infested the area - getting drunk, starting fights and displaying all around bad behavior. Most of the louts were recognizable by an emblematic pair of crusty pants called "Friskos". 

Somehow the name caught on, and the next thing you knew, authors like William Saroyan were adopting it in their novels, and Woody Guthrie was using it in songs. Then it spread to other songs and poems etc. Before you knew it, to the more staid San Franciscans' horror, it had become entrenched - like a parasitic worm. The Chronicle noted that the main culprits for using it continue to be tourists who apparently have no idea how it offends.

While we were in the city last year, I made the mistake of using the term off-handedly (essentially under automatic pilot) at a restaurant called 'Scala's" on Powell Avenue and wifey promptly corrected me before the waitress appeared:

"You can't use that word here! It's not 'Frisco'! People here don't like it!"

You'd think I had used a four letter epithet.

"Why not? What's wrong with it? Why don't they like it?"

"I don't know!  Please don't say it when we go to the cancer treatment center!"

Of course, by then I'd totally forgotten about it and 'Frisco' was the least thing on my mind as I was being admitted then taken for anesthesia and implant surgery.

The Chronicle noted, however, that the word is now in such widespread use that the old line tribe of SF has just about given up on their crusade. Especially as the paper notes a new culprit has arrived to take its place: "SAN FRAN".  Now, it turns out, almost as many San Franciscans detest "San Fran" (again mostly used by the tourist hoi polloi) as "Frisco".

Look, whether "Frisco", "San Fran" or San Francisco, the city is a delightful place ("a rose by any other name" etc.)  And after my treatment, I couldn't wait to sight see! Pier 31, Golden Gate bridge, Chinatown, the Redwoods. No American should omit it from his or her "bucket list". Just don't use the term "Frisco" (or "San Fran") when you're there!

No comments: