I recently visited England in the company of my spouse—and the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who tagged along mostly for the food and drink, of which he consumed copious quantities virtually around the clock. Among the places at which we dined sumptuously was the Côte Brasserie, an establishment on Wardour Street in the section of London known as Soho.
The origin of the name Soho is, like so much in England, rather foggy. It’s an area roughly bounded by Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road, Oxford Street, and Regent Street. It’s noted for its restaurants and racy night life—from the latter of which the Bard had to be firmly diverted. The site was farmland until 1536, when King Henry VIII converted it into a royal park. The name Soho first appears in the 17th century.
Some authorities believe the word derives from an Anglo-French exclamatory cry by hare-hunters (like the fox-hunters’ “Yoicks” and “Tally-ho”) meaning “There goes the hare!” Its use, says the Oxford English Dictionary, dates to 1307. Soho was also a rallying cry in 1685 for the army of the Duke of Monmouth at the Battle of Sedgmoor, in which the rebel duke tried to seize the throne from King James II. (He didn’t.)
Others think the ultimate derivation of the name is a shortening of “South Holborn.” Holborn, which comes from Old English holbourne (“holly bourne” or “deep brook”), referred to a stream that ran through the area.
New York has a similarly derived SoHo (the “H” is usually capitalized in the Big Apple), which is the area South of Houston Street. Other catchy New York areas are abbreviated NoHo (which, of course, is North of Houston Street), TriBeCa (the Triangle Below Canal Street), and the Bard’s favorite—Dumbo, the area “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.”
In the few moments when he was not noshing on pork pies, steak-and-kidney pudding, toads-in-the-hole, bangers and mash, or pigs-in-a-blanket, washed down with pints of London Pride, the Bard doodled the following barely decipherable notes on the back of a serviette:
“Now, sir, what will you have to start?”
Inquired the waiter down in Soho.
“I’d like to have a little tart,”
The diner winked and chuckled, “Ho, ho!”
The waiter brought a pastry cart,
And the diner found the tart was no ho.