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Jack Smith

Name-dropping and city-hopping: His ear for rhyme falls flat as he bounces from Ellay to New Yawk

March 06, 1986|JACK SMITH

In pointing out the other day that Los Angeles doesn't rhyme with anything, I noted that New York at least rhymes with pork .

That was an observation that revealed my almost complete ignorance of that splendid metropolis.

"As a transplanted New Yorker," writes Alan G. Caterson of Palos Verdes, "I must call attention to your very silly mistake.

" New York does not rhyme with pork . Never! New York rhymes with sidewalk , with talk and hawk . New York also rhymes with gawk , balk , and squawk .

"When Jimmy Walker ran for mayor of New York, his slogan was 'Vote for Walker, a real New Yorker.'

"When a critic complained that his slogan didn't rhyme, Walker's rejoiner was 'If you can't make that rhyme, you'd better go back to Utica!' "

How could my ear have deceived me so? Of course New York rhymes with sidewalk , talk and hawk , and New Yorker rhymes with Walker . All you have to do to find that out is ask a New Yorker where he comes from--if you can stand the supercilious tone of his answer.

I also went astray, I'm told, in accepting a reader's suggestion that Los Angeles is the only big city that is known by its initials.

"You never hear New York called N.Y. or San Francisco S.F.," wrote Norman J. Schuster of Woodland Hills. "Is our name so long that it forces the L.A. to be used? Or is it that the letter combination is so pleasing and easy to say?"

In the first place, we aren't alone. Jack P. Gabriel of Carson agrees that "offhand" he can't think of any other American city that is known by its initials.

"However," he says, "in the Orient, the lovely city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is known to everyone as K.L. My wife, Betty, who lives in Rosarito, just below Tijuana, tells me that all locals there, or in Ensenada, refer to Tijuana as T. J. I do think the people in Kansas City, Mo., refer to the city as K.C., but it would not mean anything to people in other cities and for that reason perhaps does not count."

That point about K.C. is also made by Alberta Morris of Gardena. She writes, "I migrated from that city to L.A. in 1926. I was so used to saying and writing K.C., that I inadvertently put down K.C. on an application. The man looking it over was no more familiar with these initials than you would have been. He said to me, 'K.C.! What's that stand for--Knights of Columbus?' "

"I grew up in B.A. and then transplanted to L.A.," writes Michael Kember. "Buenos Aires is known as B.A. to those of us of British ancestry."

There seems to be no law in language for the formation of the nicknames people apply to their cities or themselves. There may be variations, but sooner or later one form wins out. I have often heard Los as a shortened form of Los Angeles; but it has never caught on. L.A. it is.

One never hears York for New York, or Francisco for San Francisco, though the shorter Frisco is common, especially among sailors, and cannot be expunged, even though it is abominated by narcissistic San Franciscans.

Despite the disfavor in which it is held, however, Frisco has been defended by Herb Caen, the San Franciscan nonpareil, as "a fine, salty, irreverent word, known and loved around the world," and he added, "I'm not so sure we deserve that loving nickname any longer."

Caen once wrote a column headed "Friday in Frisco," and explained to his horrified readers:

"Even though I once wrote a best-smeller of a book titled 'Don't Call It Frisco,' I don't find the term as horrifying as I once did. In fact, it now has a sort of lovable ring, and, as Rex Adkins once warned, 'the day will come when we'll wish people would call it Frisco'--a nickname redolent of a throbbingly alive waterfront in a brawling city. Now that I've gone this far, I might as well nominate 'Hello, Frisco, Hello,' sung by Alice Faye in the movie of the same name, as our official song."

And that's how Frisco happened to get an official song--something L.A. doesn't have yet.

David Kimball of San Diego points out that there seems to be no rule for forming the name of a resident of a place from the place name.

"I can see no regularity," he says, "in the formation of Washingtonian, Seattlite, San Franciscan, Iowan, Chicagoan, Londoner, Parisian, or Muscovite."

And what about Florid i ans? Where did that i come from?

Jere Witter of Huntington Beach defends my endorsement of Angeleno against those who argued that I was "barking up the wrong tree."

"In 50 years I've never heard Angeleno questioned until your mail started coming in. Trouble is, I've never heard Angeleno used outside the Southland (a term invented by The Times to describe its circulation area).

"Tell somebody in New Jersey that you're an Angeleno and he thinks you're Mafia. I've never heard it used in conversation anywhere, have you? It's: 'I live in Downey and work in Hollywood.' Angeleno doesn't tell anybody anything. . . ."

Witter urges me to forget it:

"There must be fresher material in your own memories of stickups and weird homicides you covered, court scenes you remember, whorehouses you raided. . . ."

Did I ever tell you about the Black Dahlia case?

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