Lobby card from the 1934 film Fog Over Frisco

Dear Rain,

While I don't expect you to be the "final" answer on the use of the term "Frisco," I'd love to get your insight. I frequently see commenters on SFist upbraiding anyone who uses the term "Frisco," but also hear people I know are either natives or long-time residents - like a guy at my gym and multiple Muni drivers - using it non-ironically. I'm not so concerned about Buzzfeed's thing, but I would like to know what real people who are from here think about use of the term. Do you believe "Frisco" is OK to say?

Thanks for your help,

Isn't Herb Caen kind Of Over-Rated Anyway?


Ahhh. The old "Frisco" question, a controversy dating back to the 1800's when a local madman declared it unlawful to use. To quote Norton I, Emperor of the United States, and Protector of Mexico:

"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."

About 100 years later, Herb Caen titled one of his books Don't Call It Frisco, and wrote, "..'Frisco' shows disrespect for a city that is now big and proper and respectable, and because only tourists call it 'Frisco' anyway and you don't want to be taken for a tourist, do you?"

So, if two old white guys said it should never be used, it must be true, right?

Well, I will admit for much of my life, I agreed. You can just google my name and the word "Frisco" and you'll see me admonishing its use more than once, going all the way back to 2005 on this very site.

It's something I kind of knew, as I was growing up. It probably came from my parents, who also just seemed to know you shouldn't use it back when they moved here; and from reading the occasional Herb Caen column over the years; and, I've come to realize more recently, from hanging around mainly white kids in my youth. It was a self-fulfilling belief.

But this idea that no one from San Francisco ever calls it Frisco is just patently false. Listen to almost any rap or hip hop record from a Bay Area artist, and you're going to hear the F word. Now, I don't know if that's because these artists legitimately used it growing up, or because it's just easier to rhyme something with "Frisco" than it is "San Francisco." But the bottom line is, there's little to no stigma with its use among San Francisco minorities. Plenty of locally run businesses use it too. (Including Frisco Fried, which I was reminded on Sunday has the BEST fried chicken in the City.)

Herb Caen, who is most likely the main party responsible for the idea that Frisco is a bad term, eventually came around, writing: "Adolescence is believing that 'Frisco' is a racy nickname for a city; senility is automatically saying 'don't call it Frisco,' maturity is figuring it doesn't matter all that much..."

I guess I've reached maturity because really, I don't give a shit about the word anymore. And in fact, I find it more annoying hearing people telling others not to use than I do the use of the word itself! Especially when that scolding comes from someone who hasn't been in San Francisco for that long.

So, in conclusion, I think telling people not to say Frisco has become the new "Frisco."

Rain Jokinen was born and raised in San Francisco and, miraculously, still calls the city home. Her future plans include becoming a millionaire, buying a condo complex, and then tearing it down to replace it with a dive bar. You can ask this native San Franciscan your questions here.

In these Troubled San Francisco Times, there is a lot of talk about who was here when, and what that does (or doesn't) mean. In an effort to both assist newcomers and take long-time residents down memory lane, we present to you Ask a San Francisco Native, a column penned by SF native and longtime SFist contributor Rain Jokinen, which is inspired by a similar one on our sister site Gothamist, and is intended to put to rest all those questions only a native of this city can answer. Send yours here!