Don't Call It "Frisco" -- If You're Old and White

One may think twice after receiving unsolicited advice from a laundromat.

And yet, the joint at Hayes and Laguna made a fair point. Locals toting sacks of soiled clothing or just out for a stroll while wondering what the neighborhood washeteria would demand of them were regaled by the Don't Call It Frisco Laundromat.

Obeying the pronouncements of a laundromat is a matter of personal choice. But it's less so when the identical dictum emanates from the mouth of a judge — which happened in San Francisco. A 1918 article in the Examiner recounts the opprobrium heaped upon a divorce petitioner following his fourth utterance of the term "Frisco" during testimony.

SF Weekly

"No one refers to San Francisco by that title except people from Los Angeles," snapped the judge. "I am the chairman of the City Council of Defense and I warn you that you stand in danger of being interned as an alien enemy. Don't do it again."

The petitioner admitted wrongdoing and avoided incarceration. Incidentally, he was from Los Angeles.


The wisdom imparted by the Don't Call It Frisco Laundromat was, at one time, common knowledge far and wide. In 1872, illustrious San Francisco lunatic Emperor Norton deemed use of the term "a high misdemeanor" mandating a $25 forfeiture "into the Imperial Treasury." In 1916, a Los Angeles judge — yes, Los Angeles — upbraided a woman who mentioned "Frisco" in his presence: "Madam, when you come into this court, I want you to use California names properly."

That hearing was hundreds of miles from Hayes and Laguna. And yet, not even hundreds of yards away, generations of San Franciscans grew up with no knowledge that Frisco is a detested outsider's term and something to be shunned. Far from it.

The tunes wafting through the airwaves in the Western Addition and the Fillmore have included "Frisco Chillin'," "Frisco Is the Bay," "Frisco Fitted," "In a Frisco Minute," "Frisco Anthem," and, if you set the way-back machine to 1992, "Frisco Niggers Ain't No Punks."

"We love Frisco. We from Frisco," explains San Quinn, one of the small army of rappers who performed on that last number.

When queried if anyone had ever told him, "Don't call it Frisco," he replied, "Never. Nope. Never heard that. I'm from Frisco, man. It ain't a big deal; it's just something we say. You feel me?"

Try telling that to the judge.

Decades ago, saying "Frisco" was a big deal. In 2014, apparently, it ain't. That says a lot about San Francisco's future, but perhaps even more about its past.


In his delightful 1984 article "How to Talk Like a San Franciscan," Chronicle scribe Carl Nolte attests that "no book tells you how to act like a native San Franciscan, because it is widely assumed that the breed, if it ever existed, is extinct."

Thirty years down the road, we've graduated from extinct to mythical.

Descriptions of blue-collar enclaves where people spoke with hardscrabble accents harking to the hobos in Cannery Row — Whereya from? Whereja go t'school? — feel like accounts of the ancient Anasazis. But at least the Anasazis left artifacts; yesterday's San Franciscans passed down little of worth for today's ephemeral residents (other than their homes, of course). Their lives, traditions, vocabularies, accents, values — all are gone or, at best, ignored. So the primordial San Franciscans who queried "Whereya from?" would have had a visceral reaction to the term "Frisco."

But rose-tinted accounts of the city of yore neglect to note that not everyone talked, looked, or thought like this.

The city's black communities have different memories of a different San Francisco — and, it would seem, a different relationship to Frisco too.


Claude Carpenter mans the counter at the Dollar Store and More at Third and Palou in Bayview, the neighborhood where he has lived his entire life. He notes that "Frisco" is not a term you will hear him say and it will never appear on the apparel hawked in his store. But if you say it, he's not going to demand a $25 fee for the Imperial Treasury. He had no idea this was a loathed term.

His business partner, Marvin Robinson, chimed in. He knew this. Only outsiders don't know this. Outsiders and "the Pepsi Generation," with their videogames and hip-hop music.

It warrants mentioning that Robinson is 60. Carpenter, however, is 68 — not exactly a charter member of the Pepsi Generation. San Francisco Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff has published plenty of articles mentioning "Frisco" in her 23 years running the paper. People complain — "but never blacks," she says. Just as R. Crumb's intentionally edgy caricatures of black people solely drew criticism from white liberals, the only people driven to complain about "Frisco" appear to be aging Caucasians.

The criticism these folks heap upon outsiders using the language of the outsider doesn't match the reaction of black people — who, for so long, have been treated as outsiders in their own city.

That a lifelong San Franciscan like Carpenter could make it this far without learning how "San Franciscans" feel about this terminology — or that San Quinn and fellow Fillmore residents could do the same while, literally, living around the corner from the Don't Call It Frisco Laundromat — provides anecdotal evidence for a discomfiting accusation about our city.

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87 comments
friscoskid
friscoskid

San Francisco owes you nothing, you owe it everything!

friscoskid
friscoskid

Most of the HA's are old and white, are you gonna tell them to stop calling it Frisco? Yeah, 

I didn't think so, STFU!


Rudy Garcia
Rudy Garcia

I'm sorry Jason gates but everything beyond the Bay Area is a third world country to me.

Jason Gates
Jason Gates

Get over yourselves. Self righteous to say the city as if you're the only city. The rest of the world says Frisco.

Mark Cooper
Mark Cooper

You can analyze it all you want, but calling it "Frisco" will still label you as 'unsophisticated' or 'newcomer' - or both. Believe what you like, do what you like, but don't imagine that you will change this centuries-old sentiment.

sfdandies1
sfdandies1

You can analyze it all you want, but calling it "Frisco" will still label you as 'unsophisticated' or 'newcomer' - or both. Believe what you like, do what you like, but don't imagine that you will change this centuries-old sentiment.

red.marcy.rand
red.marcy.rand topcommenter

Oh, please ! You read like a Herb Caen retread ! Nothing wrong with Frisco, a patriotic paper saving device.

Chuck Stephanski
Chuck Stephanski

Not really , dis-like when a free paper hasn't enough to write about for it's ad space to pull out old tired topics. "Hey , let's do 4 pages on the telegraph hill parrots"

Tom S. Netherton
Tom S. Netherton

I lived there for 11 years, and I hated it immediately when people cheapened San Francisco's name by calling it "Frisco". It's San Francisco!!!

Thomas Focus
Thomas Focus

Born and raised here, I'll call it whatever the fuck I want to call it

Thomas Focus
Thomas Focus

No, I just hate all the fucking new techie douche bags moving here and killing the soul of this once-great city.

Michael Mattis
Michael Mattis

"'Frisco" has been and continues to be used by working class and underclass people, from San Francisco. This is supported by, for example, Frisco Choppers, a motorcycle custom shop that caters to Hell's Angels and their like, the San Francisco Hell's Angels themselves, whose local chapter is "Frisco," and businesses like the Bay View-based chicken and waffles joint, Frisco Fried. I would also add that Jack London, writing to his friend Cloudsley Johns about Anna Strunsky in 1900, described her as "a young Russian Jewess of 'Frisco..." ("Jack London: An American Life," Earle Labor, page 146). Also, Jack's nickname aboard the seal-hunting ship Sophie was... 'Frisco Jack. He wrote several stories based on his sailing experiences. One was entitled "Frisco Kid's Story," another "Frisco Kid Came Back" (Labor, page 83).

Robert Scalzi
Robert Scalzi

Frisco is in Colorado - and guess what they have one up on SF - Pot is LEGAL there - get with it SF

Maureen Rudden
Maureen Rudden

It's just plain respect for a beautiful city...never ever use the F word...San Francisco is what it is!!!!!

Darren Pierce
Darren Pierce

Frisco is another place. Don't call it that.

Jeff Rueckgauer
Jeff Rueckgauer

I happen to be one of those "old, white" men. I was born and raised in The City. (I also lived at Laguna & Hayes when I was in college...awesome, super cheap apartments because of the freeway.) Anyone using the "F" word in my presence is in grave peril...especially if they do it a second time.

Luke Harrington
Luke Harrington

I grew up one block up Hayes street from 'don't call it frisco' laundromat. We always took that to mean don't start giving nicknames to stuff in our town if you aren't from here. If you are from here you can call it whatever you want.

Miles Gutkin
Miles Gutkin

I'll call it what ever I want. Born and raised Mission Boy

Lorrayne Leong
Lorrayne Leong

Historically, the term "Frisco" was coined and used by 19th century East Bay laborers. If anything, East Bay peeps should be the indignant ones with the usage by ignorant folks. Also also, is that judge article really an historical event? It was published during the times when the Chronicle published short stories. I would like to see some clarification on that point.

Mark Stebbins
Mark Stebbins

if you can call them the san francisco 49ers when they play in santa clara . i sure as hell can call sf frisco.

Michael Harms
Michael Harms

Is there a list of what I can and cannot do as a white American in San Francisco/The Bay Area? I mean I need to fulfill all the prerequisites and make sure I know mg role here. C'mon Man! Racist! I'll call this place Fan Srancisco and it don't matter. White people don't dare use a term. And let's bundle you up with the older generation whom this disrespects completey. This a blog?

Stan Wong
Stan Wong

Love San Francisco! I call it the Bay Area if that's acceptable.

Bay9er
Bay9er

San Francisco, sf, San fran, San pancho, the city, Frisco, the sco, sucka free city, sfc, and probably a million more to go ..depends on what part of the city ur from. Stop bitching about some dumb as B.S.

Lolly Andros
Lolly Andros

There is a Frisco in Texas not in California!!! Remember this is a city and it's called San Francisco California!!!

Réne Rivers
Réne Rivers

Who the hell cares what they call it. They could call it Fry-cis-ciao for all I care.

Dominic LaForgia
Dominic LaForgia

Go ahead and call it Frisco. It lets us know who came over the bridge to get there.

Nick Territo
Nick Territo

Always the city never frisco....frisco is a HA and wannabe gangster term

Angelisa Candler
Angelisa Candler

As a San Francisco native of three generations, all I have to say is who cares! Nobody will ever be wrong or right. Anyway, I got better things to worry about like the housing crisis.

friscoskid
friscoskid

Ordalay esay! White boy got some class!


friscoskid
friscoskid

SF was called Frisco way before that TX town was even on the map. That town was named in honor of the St. Louis- San Francisco train that ran thru it.

 
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