The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

RESEARCH • EDUCATION • ADVOCACY

A Case for "Frisco"

Many Nortonophiles would find the message of this pin from the 1960s an heretical affront. But history might not be on their side. Via

Many Nortonophiles would find the message of this pin from the 1960s an heretical affront. But history might not be on their side. Via

Here at the offices of The Emperor's Bridge Campaign, opinions are divided as to whether the oft-cited "proclamation" banning use of the word "Frisco" flowed from the pen of Emperor Norton himself. Certainly, there are reasons to doubt it.

Against this backdrop comes an intriguing discovery.

In a brief article last year, veteran San Francisco journalist Lynn Ludlow offered a fascinating, erudite and thought-provoking account of why early Herb Caen had it all wrong on "Frisco."

The crux of Ludlow's case:

From the Gold Country to the Golden Gate, San Francisco’s alternate name in the 1850s is uncontroversial among miners, prospectors, farmers, gamblers, and sailors — especially sailors.

The taboo comes later.

’Frisco’ springs from an old Icelandic-to-Middle English term for safe harbor. According to the late Peter Tamony, the Mission District’s respected slang detective, ‘Frith-soken’ meant ‘refuge’ or ‘sanctuary.’ Because San Francisco Bay is just such a haven, sailors called it Frisco Bay. When the boring pueblo of Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco, the boomtown by the Bay soon became Frisco — and frisky. In a few short years the antique word morphed into a jolly synonym for the non-Victorian pleasures of the Barbary Coast.

As if banning a name might somehow restore virtue to Terrific Street (the salt-water term for bawdy Pacific Street), the F-word is soon denigrated as low-class slang. It vanishes from the parlors of the newly minted nabobs of Rincon Hill, the cotillions of their hoop-skirted daughters, and the salons of their bejeweled wives. (Before their husbands struck it rich, many a matronly language snob had been a boarding house widow or a laundress with ambition.)

They prevail. More than a century later, (censored) is an unmentionable epithet in its home town....

The city’s lingo police, oblivious to the annals of slang, mistakenly condemn Frisco as a verbal sin or, in the jargon of etymology, a syncope. That scholarly term applies to ugly clippings, or contractions, such as Sacto, San Berdoo, Narlins, Looville, or (yuk) San Fran. It doesn’t apply to Frisco.


Ludlow's whole piece is here

::    ::   ::


For links to all Campaign blog posts for a given Tag or Category, please click here.

Search our blog...

© 2017 The Emperor's Bridge Campaign  |  Site design by Polished  |  Background: Detail from image courtesy of Eric Fischer