How to Sound Like a Local When You Move to Phoenix

Elise Riley
September 25, 2018
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Phoenix and its surrounding area, known as the Valley of the Sun, is a bit of a melting pot.

It’s common to meet people who grew up in the Midwest – most commonly Chicago – and moved to the area later in life. In fact, until recently it was rare to meet someone who was born and raised in the Phoenix area. Now that it’s one of the largest metro areas in the United States, it’s much more common to meet a native “Zonie.

While Phoenix isn’t known for a distinct accent, there are certain words and phrases that only Valley residents know. Whether you’re giving directions, ordering off a menu or planning an Arizona road trip, be sure to use these phrases and pronunciations to sound like a Valley native.


A suburb in the East Valley, Ahwatukee runs along the southern foothills of South Mountain. It’s pronounced “ah-WAH-TWO-key.” It developed mostly in the 1980s and 1990s and has many golf courses.


One of the Valley’s oldest grocery stores, Bashas’ first opened in 1932. It’s named for the Basha family that owns and operates the company and is pronounced “BASH-us.”

The Biltmore

When locals reference “the Biltmore,” they refer to one of two places. Biltmore Fashion Park is an outdoor shopping center with luxury stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue. The Arizona Biltmore resort, located near the mall, is one of the most historic hotels in the Valley and a popular destination for drinks or dinner.

Canyon de Chelly

Made famous in portraits by Ansel Adams, Canyon de Chelly is a national monument in far northern Arizona. Pronounced “duh-SHAY,” it’s one of the most commonly mispronounced words you’ll hear in Arizona.


While the Arizona Diamondbacks are relatively young in Major League Baseball terms – established in just 1998 – it didn’t take long for locals to shorten the team’s name. You’ll rarely hear a longtime resident say the full “Diamondbacks” name; instead, you’re likely to hear just “Dbacks,” pronounced “DEE-backs.”


Only downtown Phoenix is referred to universally as simply “downtown.” No other city or town in the Valley of the Sun has an area referred to as “downtown.” The downtown area in Scottsdale is called Old Town; downtown Tempe is an adjunct of Mill Avenue; Chandler has a downtown area, but locals specify that they’re talking about downtown Chandler.

East Valley

This is a geographic distinction in the Phoenix area, where the city of Phoenix is considered the center. East Valley cities include Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Apache Junction and Queen Creek. 


Pronounced “ho-HO-come,” the Hohokam are the ancient native people who lived and developed the geographic area now known as Phoenix (and far beyond). They lived along the Gila and Salt rivers, and accomplished engineering feats, including setting up a canal system.


Pronounced “muh-CHAH-ca,” this is the term you’ll see on most Mexican food menus for seasoned, shredded beef. It’s delicious.

Mill Avenue

The main thoroughfare through north Tempe directly adjacent to the main Arizona State University campus. The area is friendly to pedestrians, and its bars and restaurants are frequented.


This is one word that has a variety of pronunciations in the Valley. Locals say either “mow-GEE-on or MUG-ee-on” but the National Park Service actually suggests that it’s pronounced “mug-ee-YONE.” It refers to the Mogollon Rim, a vast geographical expanse stretching 200 miles that serves as the transition from the hot Sonoran Desert to the much cooler high country of northern Arizona. The Mogollon Rim is not a single landmark or location, rather, it’s an entire geographic area with many landmarks and points of interest.

Old Town

This term always refers to an area of Scottsdale that encompasses downtown Scottsdale, the Scottsdale arts district, and Scottsdale’s historic tourist center.

Piestewa Peak / Squaw Peak

Pronounced “pie-ES-two-uh,” this north-central Phoenix landmark was renamed in honor of Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat on foreign soil. Many locals reflexively refer to it as its previous name, Squaw Peak.


Pronounced “soo-WAH-row,” this is the iconic cactus that’s so recognizable to visitors. They are natural marvels and can live more than 150 years and grow to more than 60 feet tall. It’s also illegal to cut one down. Removal of a saguaro cactus requires permitting from the Arizona Department of Agriculture.


Pronounced “Tem-PEE,” this East Valley city is home to Arizona State University, home of the Sun Devils.

West Valley

This is a geographic distinction in the Phoenix area, where the city of Phoenix is considered the center. West Valley cities include Glendale, Peoria, Avondale, Goodyear, Buckeye, Surprise, Sun City, Litchfield Park and Tolleson.

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