Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jeffy C

Let’s start this post with a little quotation from Edwin Way Teale’s classic and Pulitzer Prize–winning Wandering through Winter: A Naturalist’s Record of a 20,000-Mile Journey through the North American Winter (1957; reprint, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1981), p. 187.

(Note: the index in my edition is wrong: It says “Jefferson City, Arkansas, 107, 190–191”; when it ought to be “Jefferson City, Missouri, 187, 190–191.” Whoever indexed it must have been in a terrible rush. “Jefferson City, Arkansas”—come on.)

“Toward the end of an overcast day, we came to Jefferson City, on the banks of the Missouri River. Here we encountered a local contraction of a place name like many we had met from coast to coast. When a name is long, the local pronunciation or contraction often takes the path of least resistance. San Bernardino, California, becomes “San Berdoo” and Elizabethtown, Kentucky, “E-town.” [I would add Provincetown, Mass., which is similarly called “P-town.”] And so Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri, is known locally as “Jeff City.” When we were [in Arkansas] inquiring the way to the diamond farm, I discovered that when I was talking about Murfreesboro and a filling station man was telling me about “Murfboro,” we were talking about the same place. I asked a waitress in the town if people always called it Murfboro. She said:

“They do when they’re tar’d.”

Now, I happen to know that many people of the City of Jefferson (as it’s officially named) dislike the shortened form of the name: Jeff City. I suspect they think it sounds undignified, unlearned, uncouth. My source for this is none other than the head of the city’s CVB, because he’s told me that the town’s prominent business and other leaders don’t like it. Thus the CVB avoids it in all their publications. No joke—they don’t think it’s funny.

Or charming, or endearing.

I completely disagree, so I happily and freely call it “Jeff City,” and “Jeff,” as well. My folks use the term; apparently they always have. And they love this place. They’re natives. They’re not rubes, they’re not dumb. And they know what they’re talking about. Best of all, they’re not insecure about how outsiders might judge their nickname for their hometown.

So what’s wrong with the nickname? Even in San Francisco—where at least since the 1950s when columnist Herb Caen declared the nickname “Frisco” undignified, thus verboten for anyone but ignorant tourists (who were to be sniffed or winced at by proud, correct “SanfrnSIScans”)—the forbidden nickname is starting to make a comeback. Seriously. Among the hip and trendy. “Frisco”—it’s starting to get okay to say it again, even among the natives. I know it’s true because I read about it here. And here.

So! If this kind of thing is happening out on the West Coast, then I’m simply ten to fifteen years ahead of the fashion, here in the Midwest, calling this place good ol’ Jeff. (Just watch: Sooner or later, they’ll even be selling the town as “Jeff.”)

Trust me, like it or not, “Jeff City” is here to stay.

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