Why it’s okay to call it Frisco. By Daniel Pastre, author of Justice & Closure.

A reader posted a review regarding a passage of dialog in Justice and Closure. She stated that a seasoned San Francisco police inspector would never refer to San Francisco as “Frisco”. The term would offend the local people, and only an outsider would use this term.

Here are some interesting facts about the history of the term, “Frisco”. The first documented usage of “Frisco” in lieu of San Francisco was in a letter written in 1849 by Captain David Carter. In 1850, “Frisco” was used ten times in California newspapers and appeared in the lyrics of the famous California song, “Oh, California.” C.J. Everett used “Frisco” in his 1868 short story, “The Gentleman from Honolulu.”

Usage of the term continues. Song writer Otis Redding, while living on a houseboat in the San Francisco Bay and adored by the local people, wrote “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay” in his 1977 hit single, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” Since then, there have been numerous songs, poems, novels, and newspaper articles using the word “Frisco” to describe San Francisco.

Peter Tamony, late etymologist, traced the word back to the Middle English frithsoken, meaning sanctuary or refuge. It was shortened to “Frisco” and was used by sailors to refer to a port where ships could be repaired. “Frisco” was most commonly used by the working people who were responsible for building the city and it’s history. However, it’s use outraged the self-proclaimed elite class of Nob Hill.

Views have changed since then. Even the celebrated San Francisco columnist ,Herb Caen, who previously and adamantly forbid his readers to use the nickname “Frisco”, changed his tune in 1977 when he wrote, “It’s okay to call it “Frisco” now. The gray-beards….. are mostly gone now.”

So, could a seasoned San Francisco police inspector say “Frisco”? Although the usage of the word “Frisco” is controversial to some people, others use it as the name of their beloved city.

Daniel Pastre

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