Why Some Hate “Frisco.”

I am, of course, aware of the loathing expressed by some denizens of San Francisco for the abbreviation “Frisco,” but I always wondered about it; now, thanks to Vinnee Tong’s KQED piece on the topic, I know. The nickname itself originated in the late 19th century, and: “Not long after people started using it, other people started hating it. They said only out-of-towners used it.” But the mass campaign against it apparently started with Herb Caen, “the revered columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle,” whose book Don’t Call It Frisco came out in 1953. Charles Fracchia, the founder of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, says: “Caen’s book ruined the nickname for a lot of people. People wanted to seem proper, and cultured, so they listened to Caen and shunned it.”

But then Tong quotes people who have nothing against it, like Joey Wilson, co-owner of Frisco Tattoo in the Mission: “My parents always called it that. They were blue-collar workers. It was just something that was instilled in me as a kid.”

And now Joey Wilson wants to know why Caen’s opinion should matter more than his. After all, Caen was born in Sacramento.

“So that’s the question — why does it upset you to call it Frisco?” he says. “Give us a reason. And who are you to tell us what we can and can’t do? I’m from here. I’m born and raised here, so I think I got rights to call it whatever I want.”

Working on this story one day, I grabbed a Lyft and got to talking with the driver, a guy named Lorenzo Beasley.

“I grew up on the bottom of the city, a small neighborhood called Visitacion Valley,” Beasley says. “I think more of the urban community, like blacks or Hispanics in the city, those people always grew up using that word.”

Beasley says you hear it in Hunters Point, Lakeview, the Fillmore, Potrero Hill and especially the Mission.

I asked him who doesn’t like Frisco.

“It’s like a higher class of people, I guess,” Beasley says. “People who stay in Nob Hill and stuff. They look at it like slang, so they’re not really with it. It’s definitely a bit of snob thing involved.”

For Beasley, whether you use Frisco says what neighborhood you’re from.

Stanford linguist Teresa Pratt echoes that. She says that when you’re talking about language and word choice, like nicknames, you’re virtually always talking about money and power.

“Institutions or people who have power have an interest in maintaining that the way they speak is the right way to speak,” Pratt says. “Because it helps them. Because it’s coupled with this ideology that’s really widespread, that there’s a right way to speak, that there’s a way to speak that gets you ahead.”

Pratt says word choice is like a signal.

“Language as cultural capital, right?” she says. “It’s something like knowing exactly where to put your forks at the end of a meal.”

That’s an exemplary way to handle the story: present both sides, but give added weight to the opinion of someone who deals with this stuff professionally, a linguist. And “knowing exactly where to put your forks at the end of a meal” is a perfect comparison: nothing wrong with that if that’s important to you, but not a moral imperative. Thanks, Eric!

Comments

  1. It’s just possible that Caen’s “flip-flopping” was reflecting exactly that class distinction.

    In March 95, he wrote another Don’t Call It Frisco column. In September, he called balderdash on an Examiner story about out-of-town crooks failing the shibboleth.

  2. I’ve always thought the hate was for the term San Fran, but that Frisco was Ok. I think I got that from Kerouac and/or others of that ilk.

  3. —I remember the Don’t Call It Frisco laundromat (now closed), referenced in the article by Eskenazi linked in the KQED article.

    —The mythical SF old-timers say Sarrancisco / Sam Rancisco.

    —Caen loved mythical San Francisco. So much so, he constructed much of it himself.

    —The name is hinted at in the famous doggerel, “If, as they say, God spanked the town / For being over-frisky, / Why did He burn His churches down / And spare Hotaling’s whiskey?” Referring to an enormous whiskey warehouse which survived the 1906 quake and fire (through the efforts of booze-loving people, not God).

    —Caen also flip-flopped on Victorian houses. In the 1950s, like many other people, he thought they were antiquated kitsch, but like many others he learned to like them.

  4. An article on the (disappearing) San Francisco accent. The readers’ comments are especially noteworthy.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    I encountered the name Frisco many years ago while reading Jules Verne’s Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the world in eighty days), which was published in 1873. Frisco is explained as an affectionate nickname used by the inhabitants of San Francisco, where the travellers have just arrived.

  6. Emperor Norton supposedly issued a proclamation in 1872,

    Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word “Frisco,” which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars.

    If this is true, then that closes the case as far as I’m concerned 😀 But Wikipedia states that “evidence for the authorship, date or source of this decree remains elusive,” citing this blogpost. The earliest source there is from 1939 — before Herb Caen but well after Norton himself.

  7. can’t spell Frisco without risco

  8. “It’s definitely a bit of snob thing involved.”

    It it really a snob thing? One of my primary school teachers was from The Bay Area and she was the first one who taught me to never call it Frisco, that it’s always San Francisco or The City. She was from a German and Italian family and, as far as I can remember, from a regular middle or working class background and not from lah-dee-dah rich folks on Nob Hill.

    I’m curious ‘about who in the Mission calls it Frisco.

    Also, I’d like to register my disagreement with Teresa Pratt. It isn’t always about money and power. A lot of times its about how old or young are, if you’re a local or not, or even what language you are using.

  9. It it really a snob thing? One of my primary school teachers was from The Bay Area and she was the first one who taught me to never call it Frisco, that it’s always San Francisco or The City. She was from a German and Italian family and, as far as I can remember, from a regular middle or working class background and not from lah-dee-dah rich folks on Nob Hill.
    It’s quite possible that your school teacher was just upholding the values of what is seen as the cultured elites, that’s what school teachers mostly do, regardless of where they come from themselves.

  10. It’s quite possible that your school teacher was just upholding the values of what is seen as the cultured elites, that’s what school teachers mostly do, regardless of where they come from themselves.

    I usually try not to pigeonhole people myself. I try to see them as persons first rather than upholders or demolishers of favored or disfavored aspects of society. It’s interesting to know, though, that someone out there reduces people in the teaching profession to those terms. Anyway, she never struck me as someone particularly invested in upholding the values of what is seen as the cultured elites, unless that be the local teacher’s union and the Democratic party, maybe. Mostly, I think she saw it as a badge of regional identity that she embraced, as it seems be with the other people I know from the Bay Area, who I’m sure would be surprised to know that in doing so they are also upholding the values of the cultured elites.

    If my use of local nicknames means that I’ve been upholding the values of our local cultural elites, well, a lot of good that has done for me.

  11. Sorry if I came over as denigrating a profession or your teacher in articular. My point was just that it’s the job of teachers to teach their pupils “correct” manners, values, and language, which normally are set by the government or similar employers, based on what at that time is the cultural consensus, and they’re normally expected when teaching to adhere to these norms and not to teach their own manners, values, and idiolects when they deviate from the norm. In my experience, teachers also see themselves as part of or akin to academia, which again normally leads them strive to adhere to the language, values, and manners of the cultural elite.

  12. Social advantage and pronunciation – the origin of the Great English Vowel Shift?

  13. I usually try not to pigeonhole people myself. I try to see them as persons first rather than upholders or demolishers of favored or disfavored aspects of society. It’s interesting to know, though, that someone out there reduces people in the teaching profession to those terms.

    Oh, come on. Are you seriously going to claim that teachers don’t as a rule try to instill cultural norms as promoted by the “better sort”? That isn’t pigeonholing or denigrating them, it’s like saying police enforce the laws. Sheesh.

  14. Pancho,

    If you like, would you drop by the end of the comment thread of the “Two Japanese Questions” entry from a few weeks ago, to give your opinion on a matter of Spanish?

  15. Richard Hershberger says:

    Go to any historical newspapers archive and it is trivially easy to find any number of instances of San Francisco newspapers using “Frisco,” and not just as headlinese. The earliest examples at genealogybank.com are from 1850, which for purposes of English-language San Francisco is nearly the beginning of time. I had always heard that only outsiders call the city “Frisco” but this clearly was not true in origin.

  16. Richard Hershberger says:

    Two more points:

    The KQED piece does have its virtues, but the part about the early history is sloppy, with its vague talk of “the late 1800s.” I found it dated to 1850 while waiting for my tea to cool to drinking temperature.

    The campaign against “Frisco” predates Herb Caen. Here is an excerpt from a letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle of August 31, 1935:

    “I rise as an Easterner in your city to ask why you object to the name “Frisco”?

    “It was a pet name for a beloved city on the Western outskirts of this Nation. A city of good restaurants, of music, writers and art, the center of a gold strike that saved the Nation’s credit at one time. Why the high hat? This city is not ashamed of that past, else you would not press it to your bosom and sing of it so often.”

    A casual trawl through the letters to the editors of 1935 show that this was a topic of discussion and debate, with some writers defending and some denigrating the nickname.

    Caen was nineteen years old at that time, and did not begin writing for the Chronicle until the next year.

    And here I find an example from 1934, from a column by Will Rogers in the Chronicle of May 27, 1934:

    “A ranch two or three hundred miles away from San Francisco (in fact I can call it Frisco now I am out of there but don’t do it while there) was frequently our destination.”

    It seems likely that the notion could be traced further back, while later unremarkable and unremarked casual uses are even more readily available. This is consistent with the theory that there was a deliberate campaign to eradicate the nickname, but it predates Caen.

  17. George Grady says:

    Y: In the SFGate article you linked to, there are a lot of examples of a San Francisco accent:

    “Whereja go to school?”

    Let me tellya about it. For one thing, San Franciscans talk fast and run their words together. They say “Dontcha” instead of “Don’t you?” They say, “Youra” instead of “You are,” and “I’m” instead of “I am,” and “gonna” for “going to.”

    He talks fast, dropping his g’s – he’s comin’ and goin’ and tawkin’.

    She says “lotta” for “a lot of” and “goin’ ” for “going.”

    And one day, the last old timer will fade away, with the ultimate San Francisco farewell: “See ya.”

    There are also some proper names given as examples. I don’t doubt that there is or has been a San Francisco accent, but when reading those examples, I just kept thinking, “You’re pulling my chain, right?”

  18. Charles Perry says:

    I’ve encountered a similar situation in San Bernardino, where a lot of locals resent outsiders chummily calling it it Berdoo.

  19. Isn’t is common, to reject old self-designation once it stops being a shibboleth, and becomes a known-to-all nickname on the lips of the condescending outsiders? Like “Russkis” or “Polacks” for Russians and POles?

  20. @George Grady: Yeah, descriptions like those annoy me. With the exception of “youra” (?), all the things mentioned are general features of non-prestige speech in the US – and yet people just love to cite them as distinctive features of their local dialects. I mean, my goodness, “I’m”? Maybe those nefarious yuppies are favoring more formal speech norms, but I doubt that any of these traits are in danger.

    This falls into a broader trope, I think, of people wanting to claim particularities that aren’t particular to them at all. A pleasantly rambunctious family event will prompt remarks like “This is how we do things in the [Lastname] family”, as if there were anything even slightly remarkable about the scene; or people will cite a slight tendency toward tardiness on campus as “[Collegename] Time”, as if people on countless other campuses weren’t doing the same thing.

  21. J.W. Brewer says:

    I was thinking of Bernadino->Berdoo as a structurally parallel shortening to Francisco->Frisco, although I was not aware that S.B. had a high enough self-conscious-bourgeois-respectability quotient for anyone to complain about it. Are there other examples of a similar pattern (perhaps the result of Spanish-origin names with more syllables than Anglo mouths found convenient)? “Valpo” for Valparaiso (both the city in Indiana and the university located there of the same name) might fit, although that seems less interesting because it just retains the first X phonemes of the full name with a vowel on the end whereas Frisco and Berdoo are constructed from non-contiguous chunks of the full name.

    As recently as 1990, Frisco, Texas (whose name apparently does derive indirectly from the California toponym, via the name of a railroad) had barely 6,000 inhabitants, but its population is now past 150K and growing and presumably at some point the city will have start to have national name recognition in its own right.

  22. There is also an abandoned mining town of Frisco in Utah, with an eponymous mountain peak. Est. 1879, presumably in reference to California Gold Rush

  23. The campaign against “Frisco” predates Herb Caen.

    Well, of course it does, in the sense you provide: “this was a topic of discussion and debate, with some writers defending and some denigrating the nickname.” As I said in the post (quoting the linked piece): “Not long after people started using it, other people started hating it. They said only out-of-towners used it.” I presumed that would be sufficient context for saying “But the mass campaign against it apparently started with Herb Caen.” [Emphasis added.] Obviously I have no independent knowledge, but it doesn’t seem obviously wrong to suggest that before Caen it was a matter of dispute, while after him “everybody knew” that Frisco was bad and wrong.

    That said, excellent antedating!

  24. Jim (another one) says:

    “Well, of course it does, in the sense you provide: “this was a topic of discussion and debate, with some writers defending and some denigrating the nickname.” ”

    I grew up in the Bay Area in a family where saying “Frisco” was a good way to get your mouth washed out with soap and this was the reason given for that abhorrence of the name. I think this attitude hardened during the 30s in response to waves of immigrants from the Dust Bowl, who were widely despised. I don’t mean that they were particularly identified with the usage, simply that their presence hardened attitudes towards anyone or anything from outside the area.

  25. Do Barcelonans call their city Barça or is that just the soccer team?

  26. simply that their presence hardened attitudes towards anyone or anything from outside the area.

    But “Frisco” wasn’t from outside the area; it was used by locals (and deprecated by other locals) from the beginning.

  27. Richard Hershberger says:

    “Not long after people started using it, other people started hating it.”

    This has been asserted, but no evidence has been provided in support of the claim. The usage goes back at least to 1850. The earliest denigration of the usage so far produced is from the 1930s.

    “But the mass campaign against it apparently started with Herb Caen.”

    I suppose this depends on what constitutes a mass campaign. It is probably the case that Caen ratcheted it up with his book. Was it a mass campaign before that? i don’t know. But the story smacks of attributing something to the famous guy.

  28. George Grady says:

    [P]eople will cite a slight tendency toward tardiness on campus as “[Collegename] Time”, as if people on countless other campuses weren’t doing the same thing.

    Heh. I’ve been a student or worked at five different university campuses, and at every one of them, at the general orientation tour, they comment on the weather: “Hey, don’t worry about the weather here; if you don’t like it, wait an hour, and it’ll change!”

  29. the quidnunc kid says:

    Regarding:

    “Institutions or people who have power have an interest in maintaining that the way they speak is the right way to speak,” Pratt says. “Because it helps them”

    … I dream of a Kafkaesque machine, in the pedants colony, that forcibly tattoos these wise words onto the leather hide of every Strunk and every White.

  30. But the story smacks of attributing something to the famous guy.

    Very true, and I should be more cautious about it for that very reason.

    I dream of a Kafkaesque machine, in the pedants colony, that forcibly tattoos these wise words onto the leather hide of every Strunk and every White.

    I like the cut of your jibe!

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    So it turns out that the trackage of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad did not meet the ambitions of its naming and never got within a thousand miles of San Francisco. Indeed, its westernmost point, via a subsidiary with the comical name of the Quanah, Acme & Pacific, was Floydada, Tex. But that may have meant that disparagement of “Frisco” never reached far enough east for it to affect “Frisco” as the standard/uncontroversial short-form name of the railroad in the territory it did serve, where it appears to have left its name not only in Frisco, Tex., but in Frisco City, Alabama and the Frisco Bridge over the Mississippi at Memphis.

  32. in response to waves of immigrants from the Dust Bowl
    That sounds likely. When the name is unofficial, it’s particularly easy to switch connotation over a generation or two, from “desirable” (like in 1879 when Frisco was copied in Utah as a stamp of riches) to “pleasing, but associated with lower class”, to “hated, associated with migrants”?
    What one can tolerate, somewhat, from the old and uneducated fellow citizens, one can’t anymore from “them”.
    (I wonder how the long will Moscow’s current moniker, Нерезиновая, stand? It’s 100% anti-migrant AND associated with lower-class non-natives at the same time. Google books search doesn’t help much with timing because copy editors keep correcting the spelling…

  33. Another thing about San Francisco: is there anyone in the US who says the second syllable with /æ/ rather than schwa? Watching the trailer for the movie Pacific Rim, I was able to guess that the lead guy (Charlie Hunnam) was a Fake American when he said the city’s name that way.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    is there anyone in the US who says the second syllable with /æ/ rather than schwa?

    I have not heard the song in a long time, but it seems to me that in I left my heart in San Francisco (heard on the radio) the singer used pretty much the same vowel in both syllables. At least the second syllable did not have a schwa. But at the time, singers’ elocution tended to be more distinct than it became later.

  35. I am sure that there are people who are honestly convinced that one of the reasons for the imminent downfall of Western Civilization is that they started letting that sort into college who don’t know how to place their cutlery correctly after eating.

    More seriously, I think Pratt has the matter on its head. It’s true that mastering the version of a language that people in power use is a way to get ahead, but that fact is not part of the ‘ideology’ or rather world view that holds that their version is ‘right’. However that world view does lead to the unconscious expectation that someone who has mastered it is the ‘right sort’ solely for that reason, something that an outsider with a pragmatic mindset can take advantage of.

    (Possibly Pratt was saying something more like this and the journalist was guilty of excessive condensation).

  36. I don’t think I ever heard a San Franciscan say “Frisco” during the couple of years I was out there, but then again, not too many of the people I met were actually born and raised in San Francisco.

    About the only Bay Area dialect feature I did notice was “hella” for “very”. I wonder if there are any recordings of this old SF accent they’re talking about.

  37. Do Barcelonans call their city Barça or is that just the soccer team?

    If I remember correctly, the team is Barça but the city is Barna.

  38. Lameen—From the comments: “For a good example of a San Francisco accent, catch Angela Alioto when she isn’t giving prepared remarks.” “Former KGO­TV Gen’l Manager Russ Coughlin, a native San Franciscan, had one of the finest SF accents there ever was.” There ought to be some recordings out there.

    Mal Sharpe, of Coyle and Sharpe 1960s radio prank fame, grew up in SF. Their recordings are hilarious, and easily available. Coyle is a New Yorker, obviously. I haven’t listened closely to Sharpe’s accent.

    David DeCamp wrote his dissertation and a paper on San Francisco English in the 1950s. IIRC, Labov quotes him at length in Principles of Linguistic Change (vol. 1 or 2) about basically having to recant his observation of the caught/cot near-merger to his dissertation committee, who would not believe such a thing was possible.

  39. If I remember correctly, the team is Barça but the city is Barna.

    My Routledge Catalan Dictionary (of mysterious authorship) has an entry: “Barna (bárnə) pr. n. f. dim. (Barcelona).” No entry for Barça.

  40. I dream of a Kafkaesque machine, in the pedants colony, that forcibly tattoos these wise words onto the leather hide of every Strunk and every White.

    As the nearest thing to a Strunk or a White around, I sincerely hope not.

    Indeed, its westernmost point, via a subsidiary with the comical name of the Quanah, Acme & Pacific, was Floydada, Tex.

    Comical indeed. Its reporting mark is no longer in use, having been merged into Burlington Northern in 1980. The line west of Paducah was abandoned two years later.

    This is only the second time I have ever heard of Floydada, the first being a Molly Ivins column:

    AUSTIN, Texas — The Lord Impersonator is back again. This fella reappears every couple of years and causes no end of trouble. The jokester goes around persuading feeble-minded persons he is the Lord Almighty and that they are to do or say some perfectly idiotic thing under his instructions.

    One of the worst cases we’ve had in Texas was the time the Lord Impersonator convinced 20 people in Floydada to git nekked, get into a GTO and drive to Vinton, La., where they ran into a tree. Seein’ 20 nekkid people, including five children, come out of a GTO startled the Vinton cops. The nekkid citizens all said God told them to do it.

    Wikipedia tells us it is pronounced /flɔɪˈdeɪdə/ and gives this skein of etymologies:

    According to the Texas State Historical Association, the community of Floydada was originally named “Floyd City”. […] When a post office opened, the name was changed to “Floydada”. The meaning of the name is disputed. Some claim it was meant to be “Floydalia” but was garbled in transmission to the U.S. Postal Service, while others insist it is a combination of the county’s name [Floyd] and that of James Price’s mother, Ada. A third view is that it was formed from Caroline Price’s parents, Floyd and Ada.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    Lars: the unconscious expectation that someone who has mastered it is the ‘right sort’ solely for that reason

    And vice-versa.

    Around the time that Poland underwent a peaceful revolution thanks to the leadership of Lech Walesa, an electrician, who became the president of the country, i read an interview with a Polish writer (well-known but whose name I forget), who said about him: “I don’t think he is very intelligent: he doesn’t even speak good Polish!”

  42. Y: Thanks for the suggestion. There are indeed quite a few videos of these folks on YouTube, and the one thing that strikes me in them is that Russ Coughlin shows clear traces of a non-rhotic accent (can’t hear any such traces in Angela Alioto’s speech). That fits the observations in this paper: http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~lhlew/Hall-Lew_underreview_VoxCA.pdf . Listening to San Franciscans now (OK, a decade ago), though, I’d never have believed it.

  43. @J. W. Brewer:

    “Valpo” for Valparaiso (both the city in Indiana and the university located there of the same name) might fit

    FWIW, Valpo is also the usual informal abbreviation for Valparaíso, Chile, after which the Indiana city is named.

    @Bloix:

    Do Barcelonans call their city Barça or is that just the soccer team?

    as TR and Hat have said, the city is invariably Barna. The Catalan Wikipedia entry for Barça redirects to the football club.

  44. I’ve been a student or worked at five different university campuses, and at every one of them, at the general orientation tour, they comment on the weather: “Hey, don’t worry about the weather here; if you don’t like it, wait an hour, and it’ll change!”

    I visited the Socorro campus of the University of New Mexico last year; they didn’t say that. (It also didn’t happen.) I’ma register a complaint now.

  45. The dark pit called Wikipedia lists an abundance of Frisco placenames, as far east as Hatteras Island in North Carolina. Pianist Rocky Frisco and vaudevillian Joe Frisco show no indication in their biographies of any connection with SF. The latter has some memorable quotes, such as:

    —”Mr. Frisco, we understand you have a young lady in your room.”
    —”T-t-t-then send up another G-g-gideon B-b-bible, please.”

  46. —”Mr. Frisco, we understand you have a young lady in your room.”

    That’s the context in which I first discovered the word Frisco, eons ago:
    Один молодой паренеки
    Соскучился жить одиноки.
    И вот в город Фриско
    К податливым киско
    Спешит на свидание он.
    Puta chingada cabron

  47. Hong Kong Blues
    Hoagy Carmichael
    Lyrics

    It’s the story of a very unfortunate colored man
    Who got arrested down in old Hong Kong
    He got twenty years privilege taken away from him
    When he kicked old Buddha’s gong

    And now he’s poppin’ the piano just to raise the price
    Of a ticket to the land of the free
    Well, he say his home’s in Frisco where they send the rice
    But it’s really in Tennessee

    That’s why he said, “I need someone to love me
    Need somebody to carry me home to San Francisco
    And bury my body there

    Oh, I need someone to lend me a fifty dollar bill and then
    I’ll leave Hong Kong behind me for happiness once again”

    Won’t somebody believe
    I’ve a yen to see that Bay again?
    But when I try to leave
    Sweet opium won’t let me fly away

    I need someone to love me
    Need somebody to carry me home to San Francisco
    And bury my body there

    That’s the story of a very unfortunate colored man
    Who got arrested down in old Hong Kong
    He got twenty years privilege taken away from him
    When he kicked old Buddha’s gong

  48. The first thing that came to mind was that the villain in the Humphrey Bogart film _Dark Passage_ says “Frisco” towards the beginning during the prison escape from San Quentin.

  49. George Grady:
    Come to California in the summer and people will say “Hey, don’t worry about the weather here; if you don’t like it, wait six months, and it could possibly change!”

    Wealthy San Franciscans in the 19th century used to have their children educated at posh East Coast schools or in England. That’s probably why there are traces of non-rhotic speech among such people.

    Most old-time SFers I’ve heard say “The City” as though there is no other. Otherwise you mostly hear “Safruhsisco”.

  50. … or “Samfruhsisco”.

    Kenny: David Goodis, the author of Dark Passage, was a native of Philadelphia.

    e-k: Hoagie Carmichael was a native of Indiana.

    I always wondered what “He got twenty years privilege taken away from him” was supposed to mean. I’ve never heard the phrase anywhere else but in this song. And as far as I’ve been able to find out, Hoagie Carmichael never went to Hong Kong.

  51. Hoagy Carmichael is a big deal in Bloomington. There’s a train bridge with the melody of Stardust painted on it, and the Jacobs School of Music has the world’s largest collection of recordings of his songs. As to the “twenty years privilege,” I took that to be the length of a prison sentence.

  52. There are a few hits. A private company was granted a twenty years’ privilege to build and run street cars in New Orleans, for example.

  53. J.W. Brewer says:

    While looking for something else I just came across an old bluegrass standard associated with Bill Monroe (but recorded by various others as well) that begins

    One night while out for a ramble
    The hour was just about nine
    I met a young maiden in Frisco
    On the corner of Geary and Pine

    When you pull up a map of San Francisco, however, it turns out that there is no such corner because Geary and Pine run parallel to each other. Sometime within the last year I noticed the same thing in a more recent song with a San Francisco setting (by Alejandro Escovedo) that referenced the non-existent intersection of “Leavenworth and Polk” (which likewise run parallel). Something weird about the effect of Frisco on songwriters, or just evidence that James Joyce sitting in Trieste with enough reference books to make sure none of the Dublin-geography details of Ulysses were inaccurate was more the exception than the rule when it comes to writers?

  54. Monroe also mispronounces Geary (with a soft g). Tsk!

  55. “Love Potion #9” has similarly impossible geography: the southern end of Vine St. is at Wiltshire Boulevard, far north of 34th St. either East (which is very short) or West. So I’d say it’s songwriters, not the locality. See also the chaotic routing of “Entering Marion” (on the same page: going from Nantucket to Pawtucket via Manhasset to avoid pursuit).

Speak Your Mind

*