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The SoHo Effect

Whether you used to laugh out loud and now you LOL, or you used to ship packages through Federal Express and now you do it through FedEx, there is no denying that language is getting shorter, faster and catchier — sometimes to the detriment of linguistics, as evidenced by Flickr’s MIA e or the unsightly but popular CU L8R. But, properness aside, the inclination of tightening, merging and otherwise welding commonly used words, terms, and companies’ or even persons’ names is simply a reflection of our constant crusade to make our lives easier by shaving off a few seconds of any given conversation, correspondence or transaction. Manifested in different written forms and expressed in a variety of pronunciations — think ASAP (aysap), AWOL (awall), DoD, BevNap, Tomkat, Brangelina, starchitects, spanglish, etc. — most of these shortenings become a natural part of our lexicon as they roll nicely off the tongue and help express dual meanings in one fell swoop. And, perhaps the catchiest and most enviable form of syncopation is the two-word, four-letter (2/4 from hereon) syllabic abbreviation. Like SoHo.

As most know, New York’s SoHo (sowhoe, sowhaw, or sawhaw) stands for South of Houston (pronounced howston, please), the once edgy, boutiquey and artistic neighborhood now anchored by Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn and Old Navy located, well, to the south of Houston Street in downtown Manhattan. No one in the city, whether locals or tourists, refers to this area as South of Houston, it’s unequivocally SoHo. It’s easy, it’s catchy, it looks great on a tourist map. New York, with its love for micro neighborhoods has taken the premise a hundredfold with catchy names like NoHo (North of Houston), TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal), NoLIta (North of Little Italy), MePa (Meat Packing district), SoBro (South Bronx), and BoCoCa (Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens), among others. But none are as perennially ingrained as the rhythmic SoHo, with its lovely pair of round o’s formally preceded by a swooning S and architectural H respectively. SoHo exhibits the best attributes of the 2/4 punch of syllabic abbreviations: a) It can be pronounced as a single word, b) it flows through the ConsonantvowelConsonantvowel structure, c) it looks great with its BIGsmallBIGsmall visual structure, and d) in its entonation it magically manages to capture the spirit of the pretentious but coveted neighborhood. And the benefit is not lost on anyone willing to capitalize on this sticky nomenclature.

Washington Mutual, once a small regional bank in the West Coast state, changed its public name and logo to WaMu. Goofy and catchy, supported by a national ad campaign emphasized the friendliness and non-stodginess of the bank, the name also helped Washington Mutual shed its regional chip on the shoulder as it expands with more than 2,500 retail branches across the U.S.. The change is also a reflection of internal culture, as WaMu was how employees referred to their employer. The not-too-fancy hotel chain, Howard Johnson, has also given new life to the 2/4 interpretation of their name, HoJo, launching an ad campaign around the slogan “I Go HoJo”. Not quite as catchy, but perhaps more efficient in giving a new sheen to an otherwise stale brand. Other brands, have accepted their reductionist usage by its audience, like Amex, for American Express even if they haven’t exploited it outright. And it’s not only commercial enterprises that have ended up with a 2/4 reference. The term hobo, for example, is supposedly an abbreviation of Homeward Bound, a term used to describe soldiers returning from the Civil War, among other explanations. Or PoMo for Postmodernism, on which I dare not tread. It also applies to person’s name of course, proving a harder challenge than the mind-numbing, celebrity-celebrating trend started by Bennifer — with my favorite being LiLo for good ol’ Lindsay Lohan, carrying a ring of ridiculousness and immaturity that is rather apropos.

Evidently, and if conjured properly, the 2/4 syllabic abbreviation approach can yield one of the most sought-after qualities of branding: Memorability. So whether you are just a person, own a company or plan to coin a term consider the 2/4 potential of the SoHo Effect. For the mentioned below, consider these recommendations free of charge. Just don’t forget to thank us when it catches on.


If BMW can go by Beemer, I bet Rolls Royce could pull off RoRo rather ostentatiously.



Paramount Pictures may be facing a slow summer, so maybe going with some sexy, Latin-pronounced shorthand like PaPi they could get some better box office results.



Perhaps a city like Kansas City could use some zazinness. KaCi, Missouri. Yeah!



Speaking of zazzy and sexy, Victoria’s Secret could add a naughty layer of meaning to an already desirable brand — if you know what I mean.



Our own Debbie Millman could opt for a little celebrity panache by association.



Or our friend Sam Potts, who already has the attitude to go with a thuggish, street-cred-building name like SaPo.


SaBa and PaRa
(Sahbah and Parrah)

A new way to refer to our design idols, Saul Bass and Paul Rand. Yes, surely, they are turning in their graves right now.



Atlanta-based hothouse Portfolio Center already goes by PC, but a new generation of designers could call it the PoCe. Bonus points for anyone that comes up with a PoCe has a Posse poster.



Some design terms are also asking for a revival in their daily usage. I suggest ScRu for the venerable Scotch rule.


TiKe / LoKe
(Taikei / Lewkei)

When you are standing over the shoulder of a junior designer just scream “Make it TiKe… No, TiKer” when you want tighter kerning and, of course, LoKe for looser kerning.



Serif haters rejoice with the use of SaSe for all your Swiss style needs. Sans serif gives too many props to the serifs.



Impress your clients by proposing to “BlEm it”. Everyone loves blind emboss.



Tired of spelling out Cee Em Why Kay to your printer anytime you want Four Color process printing? Just ask for FoCo printing next time.



That’s all folks!

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ARCHIVE ID 3764 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Aug.22.2007 BY Armin
kathryn’s comment is:

What, "sowhaw or sawhaw"? Nobody I know in NYC pronounces SoHo that way. What's your pronounciation authority on this one?

On Aug.22.2007 at 12:34 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Um, none. I'm a designer, not a linguist or lexicographer, but I don't think that precludes from interpreting spoken words phonetically somewhat liberally.

As far as who says SoHo like that… I'm guessing, no one you would know : )

On Aug.22.2007 at 12:41 PM
SuziQ’s comment is:

hmmm... maybe that should be SuCue?

This is a fun one, sort of like speaking piglatin (PiLa)

I think the one for PC (PoCe) should be pronounced "posee" as in "possy", "insane portfolio PoCe" Yeah!

On Aug.22.2007 at 01:29 PM
ed mckim’s comment is:

can we call you ArVi?


on a separate note, there is a burger place in nyc called brgr

On Aug.22.2007 at 01:49 PM
Ruben’s comment is:

wow... I'm not sure that I want to live in that/this world... also... that AT&T ad with the text message shorthands... dead on arrival?
maybe I'm just out of touch...

either way... all this is making me feel quite queasy.

On Aug.22.2007 at 02:27 PM
Emily’s comment is:

As a transplant from Kansas City to Chicago, I'll attest that just about every person there calls it KC (however not spelling it KaCi), and KCMo (kay-cee-moh) for the Missouri side!

Also near KC is JoCo (Johnson County), appropriately one of the richest counties (in America, I believe), and home to the suburb of Overland Park (OP: oh-pee for short of course) that is in fact now the 2nd largest city in Kansas.

Something to be said about things attracting more attention once they've got a fashionable shortened version of their name...or maybe it's the other way around...

I just like to call the whole darn place "The Bubble".

On Aug.22.2007 at 02:55 PM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

I'm always looking for the perfect way to communicate; it's part of the reason I can be so bad verbally (off the cuff) and at least competent in the written form. That said, I can't stand most abbreviations. It just sounds trite and stupid. A lot of my friends laugh at my instant messages, since it takes me like five seconds longer to type out a sentence than it would have if I'd have just used the shortened version (though in the case of "LOL" I tend to use the even further-shortened "Ha"). I can understand the need to shorten to an acronym (SCUBA, for example), and can appreciate the dynamism of a SoCo or NYC for place names, but frequently it's as a concession to general popular culture. There's just a lot out there that doesn't need to be "abbreved" (my word for unnecessary abbreviation). "Vay-Cay" for vacation and IMHO (of course its your honest opinion, nitwit) are near the top of my list. Does that make me a crank?

On Aug.22.2007 at 03:30 PM
Josh’s comment is:

Emily's right... sadly, Kansas City already took it to that level. NBD.

I'll make sure to use FoCo next review I have, show how hip and young I am. Fo Sho, Fo Sho.

On Aug.22.2007 at 03:56 PM
Igor Geyfman’s comment is:

Let's not forget that this a is a trend that has strong roots even earlier, with AlCoA (Aluminum Company of America) in early 1900s and NaBisCo (National Biscuit Company)in the early 1970s.

On Aug.22.2007 at 05:12 PM
kathy’s comment is:

This was a very nicely written post.

On Aug.22.2007 at 05:21 PM
Jen’s comment is:

I'm from Seattle. Washington Mutual has been using the WaMu moniker for many years. Much longer than the company has been in New York.

On Aug.22.2007 at 07:23 PM
Todd’s comment is:

WoGa = Woodland, GA

This is by far the most enjoyable reading experience I have had all week. Well done Armin.

On Aug.23.2007 at 07:40 AM
daniel’s comment is:

I think you're on to something. My favorite is DeMi. DeMi's Design Matters.

On Aug.23.2007 at 09:51 AM
jtc’s comment is:

Even used (embraced) by a large law firm. MoFo (Morrison & Foerster LLP). Not only for their URL but also within their marketing. Wiki had a few other ideas.


On Aug.23.2007 at 11:03 AM
Edrea Lita’s comment is:

Thanks for the post!

In Toronto, we use the term TO (tee ooh) or T dot (tee dot), and for the surrounding areas, it's the first letter of the place followed by it's region type (e.g. Brampton would be B-town). There's also a popular coffee company (Tim Hortons) that many people call 'Tims' or 'Timmy's'.

Oh and don't forget BoHo!

On Aug.24.2007 at 12:10 AM
Edrea Lita’s comment is:

Lets try one more... ESSO (Standard Oil / Every Saturday and Sunday Off). They were one of the first companies to let their workers have weekends off.

On Aug.24.2007 at 12:15 AM
Matthew Yu’s comment is:

heheh edrea, your first post brings up the influence of hip-hop culture in our vernacular (e.g. k-fed, p-diddy). But that can be for another article.

I love what Homer Simpson said to Bart in one episode, “Do you want to change your name to Homer, Jr.? The kids can call you HoJu!”

On Aug.24.2007 at 03:17 PM
Armin’s comment is:

For those interested… These abbreviations are officially called acronymic blends, which sounds as awesome as a Mangogo Jamba Juice smoothie with an energy boost. A great article here. Thanks to the well-spoken Grant Barrett for the lesson.

On Aug.24.2007 at 08:14 PM
Matthew Yu’s comment is:

Thanks for the link, Armin. I knew there had to be a proper-sounding name for it.

On Aug.25.2007 at 04:02 AM
Sa(m)Po(tts)’s comment is:

Me, attitude? Jamais!

One of the first examples I noticed of this: FSTR by Jamie Keenan. Well done.

Armin, you might have a corollary post to write: most of my oldest friends still call me Sampotts -- what about names that are intentionally elongated?

On Aug.25.2007 at 05:11 PM
.x’s comment is:

Nice article, Armin.
Though I personally don't agree with such vast and ubiquitous distortion of the language, but since today it's inevitable, I think any good communicator/designer should be well-versed in all different expression of language.

Also, I've been using DeMi as abbreviation for Debbie Millman's blog link in the Firefox bookmarks toolbar for about half a year already.

On Aug.26.2007 at 07:41 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

Frankly, I communicate solely through a complex series of smells and I am mortally offended by anyone who uses sound at all.

On Aug.29.2007 at 12:32 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Nt sng vwls hlps stp glbl wrmng, 'v hrd

On Aug.29.2007 at 05:07 PM
ed mckim’s comment is:

lol @ psky

On Aug.29.2007 at 07:21 PM
mogo’s comment is:

This sort of contraction is taken to quite the extreme in Indonesia. My parents left there some 30 years ago and are now unable to understand much of the daily news as so many words and phrases have been contracted or made into acronyms. It's a little crazy.

On Sep.05.2007 at 01:37 PM
Matthew Yu’s comment is:

@pesky: is that a reference to FF Mt?

On Sep.06.2007 at 04:07 PM
Brian’s comment is:

DUMBO=down under the manhattan bridge overpass

On Sep.12.2007 at 05:50 PM