(July 26, 2010) Hear the audio version

Has this happened recently to you? You’re on a flight bound for San Francisco, and the pilot comes over the loudspeaker and announces you will be arriving in “San Fran” at such-and-such a time? Or you read a tweet asking about the weather in “San Fran?” (It’s summer. It’s foggy. Why do you ask? And if you want to save characters in your 140 limit, use the letters “SF.” It’s shorter.) Even some recent transplants call their new home “San Fran.” At times like these I’m reminded of the old Herb Caen header, “Don’t Call it Frisco,” and want to shout “Don’t call it San Fran!”

Where did “San Fran” come from, anyway? I blame Southern California, or SoCal, as they like to call it. SoCal is where “the I-5 meets the 405 on the way to the PCH in the O.C.” I grew up in Orange County, not the “OC,” the title of a TV show, for heaven’s sake. I wrote to the author of an (otherwise) terrific book for young adults set in a near-future San Francisco, complaining about his characters hopping on “the BART.” THE BART??? He acknowledged the error and said he’d written the book while living in Los Angeles. I knew it! There’s no hope of Northern California breaking away from the South, but must we allow them to invade our language?

“NorCal” doesn’t grate on me as much as San Fran or a “the” tacked onto every freeway or form of public transportation. It’s used in youth sports leagues. My daughters tell me there’s another term teens are using: “the Bay,” instead of the “Bay Area.” Well, if someone told me she’s “from the Bay,” I’d be tempted to ask if she’d toweled off when she got out of the water. Or: Are you amphibious?

Newspapers, long may they live, still use Calif. for our state instead of the unkind-to-look-at, dreadful-to-pronounce two-letter abbreviation, capital C, capital A, which is really appropriate only on snail mail. It was invented by the U.S. Postal Service for its address-reading machines, and to make room for ZIP codes on envelopes.

San Francisco is a mellifluous, historic name. It honors our state’s cultural heritage. Don’t decapitate it. Don’t call it San Fran.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

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