08 June 2008

You Say Noho, I Say WeToCoRo

I never really thought about the etymology of Soho in London until I went to SoHo in the Big Apple and learned that it stood for South of Houston Street (Houston being pronounced how-stun rather than as in "we have a problem"). New York is big on the truncation of several elements of a phrase and juxtaposing them in a single acronym or initialism: SoHo, TriBeCa (triangle below Canal Street), NoLIta (north of Little Italy), DUMBO (down under (the) Manhattan Bridge Overpass)...the list goes on and on.
Why bother coming up with a creative name for a new 'hood when you can make up a catchy word or name based on its geographical location? So, my quartier in Nowheresville could be TriBeCREW (triangle below ? Road and ? Way). I don't see it taking off, somehow.

Anyway, SoHo in NYC clearly took its name from the London area (given that the first citation of the name "Soho" in London in the middle of the 17th century) and it was previously called the Cast Iron District (but the acronym CID was already taken). It has since spawned NoHo, which is (logically, north of Houston Street).

Wandering through London yesterday, I wondered briefly whether London's Soho was so-named because it was south of Holborn, but although this is true, WeHo would really have been more accurate. My puzzlement continued this afternoon when, just the other side of Oxford Street from Soho, I spotted some new apartment buildings being built that were called "Noho apartments" (or similar). Again, this area was technically north of Holborn, but WeHo (Westward Ho!?) would be more accurate. Of course, Soho's etymology has nothing to do with geography, I learn, but (according to the Online Etymology Dictionary) comes from a 14th century hunting cry, as the area used to be associated with hunting (I guess you could say it still is what with all the men going looking for fresh meat in this part of town and the gaggles of girls on the pull).

Noho in London, then, is an interesting analogical reworking of Soho, based on the comparison with the NYC SoHo - the element "So" is taken to mean "south" and then added to "ho" which represents whichever place or street Soho is supposed to be south of. SoOx and NoOx would probably be more accurate, or they could combine the two areas into WeToCoRo (west of Tottenham Court Road). You could imagine a section of Burgess Park being renamed TriBeCa, or the South Bank being called DUWaBO (down under the Waterloo Bridge overpass). Oh, no, wait; in England, we give places sensible names, like this or this (nor have I quite forgiven my parents for not allowing us to move a few miles down the road to Christmas Common, where it is never winter and always Christmas).

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