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The Frisco Paradox: Is It Time to Retire SF's Last Taboo?

And if the Notorious B.I.G. is wrong, do we really want to be right?


Are you ready to say "Frisco"?

The once-acceptable, now-questionable sobriquet for San Francisco has drifted back into the atmosphere (or at least the blogosphere) again. But should it be treated like the tap water in Flint, Michigan, and avoided at all costs? Or like our own pure, clean Hetch Hetchy hydrology, and gulped without guilt?

It's gonna be a tough call—in part because the effort to bring it back into circulation is being led by the not-exactly-native-born staffers at BuzzFeed SF. Last week, mysterious fliers appeared around the Mission advertising “Call It Frisco” and giving a date: January 29. Today, BuzzFeed SF minions tweeted out a link to an eponymous website mentioning some sort of happening on that same date, details to follow. The website’s San Francisco bureau chief, Mat Honan, confirms that his office—which informally thinks of itself as "the Frisco bureau"—is behind the Frisco Movement.

Why are they doing this? We'll let Mat explain: “I’ve never had anyone give me a good reason as to why you shouldn’t call it that,” he says. The reclamation of "Frisco" as a go-to term for locals is a longtime hobby horse for Honan (it gets a nod on his Twitter bio), which turned into an in-office joke once he was hired away from Wired to build out the BuzzFeed bureau a year ago. “We started calling it the Frisco bureau because it sort of bothered people,” he says. But the more the staffers thought about it, the more they wanted to embrace it: “I started to think about the reasons people didn’t say Frisco, and a lot of it seems tied up in weird issues of, ‘I’ve been here five minutes longer than you have.’” (Honan, for the record, is a native Alabamian.)

But is the rest of non-listicle-writing San Francisco really ready for Frisco? Are eight days sufficient time to shed our baggage over what has long been to many a heinous abridgement of San Francisco’s good name? In the yes column, we have Honan and Co., the Notorious B.I.G. (who rapped, “Sippin' Crist-o with some freaks from Frisco”), the Hells Angels, long-dead sailors, and tourists who missed the memo. 

In the no camp, there's Herb Caen (except the time he was a yes), all the San Francisco natives who texted us back right away when we asked for their opinions, and San Francisco senior editor Joe Eskenazi, who's never lived farther than 14 miles from UCSF-Parnassus (where he was born). “If someone says, ‘I’m going up to Frisco,' it’s like petting a cat the wrong way,” Eskenazi fumed, affably. “You know it’s going to piss him off.”

That leaves us at an impasse. Or maybe just right back where we started?

Interestingly enough, this isn't the first time an upstart media entity has tried to revive the dreaded term. The late ’80s saw the launch of a short-lived glossy called, provocatively, Frisko. As Frisko cofounder Gary Kamiya (better known lately as San Francisco’s executive editor) recalls, the name “was definitely chosen as a kind of red flag to a bull.” The cute spelling was a knowing wink, meant to make the moniker both more palatable and more ridiculous. “You’re starting this little glossy attitude-filled city magazine, and you’re trying to get attention, so in a way it was trying to provoke complete outrage,” he says. (Whether the magazine also contained quizzes like “What Percentage Cat Are You?” is a mystery lost to history.)

Whether or not that bit of historical trivia makes us Friscans—or, God forbid, Friskans—it does make us a town with a cyclical history of newcomers knowingly pushing natives’ buttons. But for Honan (who's lived here for 18 years), the Frisco taboo feels contrived at best. “For a city that prides itself on being so open minded and tolerant, why can’t you be tolerant of an abbreviated word that’s been around since the 19th century?” he asks.


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