Portland Slang

Portland Slang

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Portland, Ore. is a city of diverse and interesting people, great culture, and magnificent outdoor adventure opportunities. But before you visit, it's wise to brush up on Portland slang, even if you're only asking for directions.

1. "Pod"

If the word "pod" makes you think of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," you'll have to rewire your brain for your trip to Oregon. In Portland slang, a pod is all about food, and not just any food. We're talking "street food."

A pod is any one of several collections of food carts that can be found all over town, usually located in a parking lot or along a city block. They dish out some of the best food in the city. In fact, a few of Portland's up-and-coming restaurateurs got their start selling food through a small sliding window.

Whether you want crepes, Thai, Mexican, vegan or baked goods, you can find it at a food cart. Some of the pods even have shaded seating areas, which makes them a true dining destination. Eating at a pod solves one of those perennial food dilemmas you have when you go out with a friend – what kind of food to eat. At a pod, you can both eat happily.

2. "Couch St."

The pronunciation of this street shouldn't be tricky, but it is. Saying it like a piece of furniture that you sit on instantly marks you as someone from out of town.

In Portland local lingo, this street name is pronounced "KOOCH." The street is named after John Heard Couch, a sea captain who was one of the founders of Portland. He plotted his land into streets and named each street that ran east to west with a letter of the alphabet in alphabetical order. When the streets were renamed, they kept their alphabetic order and C Street was named after Couch. The whole area is known as the "Alphabet District."

3. "Glisan St."

Perhaps it's only fitting that there should be an issue with the pronunciation of this street in Portland's local language as well, since the man it's named after, Rodney Glisan, married one of the daughters of John Couch, who is responsible for the tricky pronunciation of Couch St.

Glisan, an Army physician, was also one of Portland's founders. When you see the name, your first instinct is probably to say it so that it sounds like "glisten." That is actually the correct pronunciation of the name. However, Portlanders refer to it as "GLEE-san" St. So, in this example of Portland lingo, right is definitely wrong.

4. "Freddie's"

A commonly heard Portland phrase is "I got it at Freddie's." No, it's not a salon or a super trendy spot for shopping. It's the affectionate Portland slang term for Fred Meyer, a local grocery store empire founded in the early 1900s, which now has stores all over the state. "Freddie's" offers one-stop shopping and is the place to go when your shopping list includes disparate items such spark plugs, underwear, orange juice and a duvet cover. If you stay in Portland longer than a few days, you will likely find yourself uttering, "I need to go to Freddie's."

5. "The Gorge"

Also known as "Portland's backyard," "the Gorge" is the Columbia River Gorge. It's a canyon cut by the Columbia River as it winds its way toward the Pacific Ocean, marking the border between Oregon and Washington State. The Gorge is federally protected as a National Scenic Area, and its western end is just minutes from Portland.

What can you do in the Gorge? It might be better to ask if there's anything you can't do. It includes a major recreation area where you can hike, bike, mountain bike, cross-country ski, ride horses, white water raft, windsurf and go kiting. The town of Hood River, OR, just an hour from Portland, is often referred to as the "windsurfing capital of the world." If you don't like working up a sweat, the scenery in the Gorge is spectacular with old-growth forests and waterfalls such as Multnomah Falls, which is the second highest year-round waterfall in the United States.

6. "The MAX"

Portland is very proud of its public transportation network. In fact, this is a place where taking public transportation or commuting by bicycle is considered a badge of honor. "The MAX," Portland slang for Metropolitan Area Express, is a light rail system that connects downtown Portland with many of Portland's suburbs, as well as the airport.

7. "The Sunset"

While the sunset in Portland can be very beautiful with the sun sinking behind the city's West Hills and the Willamette River, in local language "the Sunset" is the nickname for the section of U.S. Route 26 that runs from the Oregon coastal town of Seaside to the I-405 interchange in downtown Portland. Traffic backs up often on the Sunset because it's the easiest route to the Nike and Intel campuses, which are major regional employers. Since the Sunset runs from east to west, it's possible to drive on it into the sunset.

8. "The Schnitz"

While this may sound like some odd Germanic slicing device, it's actually the Portland slang name for the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Broadway.

In the early 1980s, Howard and Arlene Schnitzer donated funds to help restore the Paramount Theater, as it was then known, and the building across the street, which would become the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. Today, "the Schnitz" hosts all genres of entertainment, from music to dance and lectures by famous authors.

9. "The 'Couv"

The Interstate Bridge where I-5 crosses the Columbia River and separates Portland from Vancouver, Washington is known in Portland lingo as "the 'Couv." Because the city is so close to Portland, many people who work in the Portland area live in and around Vancouver, WA.

Portlanders generally consider their city to be much more sophisticated, and there are important differences between the two, mainly concerning taxes. For example, the state of Washington has no personal income tax, while Oregon has a relatively high income tax. Washington has a sales tax, but Oregon doesn't. There are many people who, after having crunched the tax numbers, decide to live in one city and work in the other.

Note: If you drive across the 'Couv and need to fill up your car, remember that in Washington, you have to pump your own gas, but in Oregon, there's no such thing as self-serve.

10. The "Wil-LAM-et"

There are two rivers that flow through Portland. While the pronunciation of the Columbia River is straightforward, people tend to sink a bit when it comes to the Willamette River, which flows through the city and is spanned by beautiful bridges.

Most outsiders tend to pronounce it with the emphasis on the first syllable; however, the actual way to say it in Portland lingo is "Wil-LAM-et." It's worth learning to do this as a proper Portlander because there are many businesses, parks and public buildings that get their names from the river.

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