How to Sound Like A Local in Portland

Portland, Oregon may have a well-earned reputation for rain, but lately, it’s been newcomers we’re flooded with. Mostly, you’ll get a warm welcome, but you’re likelier to get the best welcome from Webfoots (people who’ve lived in Portland so long they’ve grown webs between their toes) if you’ve gone to the trouble to learn the lingo of your new home. To that end, we offer this basic guide to some tricky pronunciations, abbreviations and local habits of speech.


Yes, Portland has seen a big influx of new residents, many of whom are liberal minded and seeking spiritual advancement. However, if you hear someone say they moved here to “grow,” they are most likely referring to the fact that it is now legal to grow and use recreational marijuana in Oregon and they intend to take full advantage of that fact.


The fastest way to make your new neighbors wince is to mispronounce the name of our state. It’s OR-a-guhn, not, not, not OR-a-GONE. The stress is on the first syllable and the last syllable is pronounced like “gun,” not “gone.” If you forget everything else, remember this and you’ll do okay.


There are a few other tricky geographical pronunciations, too. For instance, The Dalles is a rather picturesque city about 80 miles east and it’s not pronounced like the Texas city (or 1980s primetime soap opera) with a similar spelling. Dalles actually rhymes with “gals.”

Another important name that trips up newcomers is the Willamette River, which divides the city’s east from west. It’s pronounced Wil-LAM-ette. The stress is on the second syllable and is pronounced like “lamb.”

Multnomah County, in which most of Portland sits, looks trickier to pronounce than it is: Mult-GNOME-ah.

And then there’s Couch Street. Which, strangely enough, is not pronounced like the synonym of sofa, even though it’s spelled the same. It’s actually COOCH.


Speaking of geography, when you talk about getting around town, it’s important to realize that the city is split into quadrants. As mentioned, the Willamette River divides east from west. Burnside Street divides north from south. Most addresses reference two directions. For example, if you’re craving a great slice of pizza, you’ll head to Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. Though you’d just say Southeast Hawthorne, and if you were jotting it down, you’d write “SE Hawthorne.” If you want a great view of three mountains, you’d head to Council Crest Park in Southwest.

Making things a bit more complicated is the fact that anything north of Burnside but between the Willamette and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd (just say MLK), is just referred to as “North.” Not Northeast. That’s for everything that falls east of MLK and north of Burnside. Everything clear to you now?


Well then, let’s get back to ABCs. In Northwest Portland, you’ll find the Alphabet district, where the first letter of street names are conveniently alphabetical. Ankeny, Burnside, Couch, Davis, Everett…You get the idea. But it kinda falls apart after “W” for reasons having to do the politics of naming things. (Thanks for screwing up the mnemonic device, Roosevelt!)


Portland has a rather dizzying array of nicknames you should be versed in. Most often, you’ll hear the “City of Roses” or “The Rose City.” The name is well earned, since it’s ridiculously easy to grow roses here, and they are liberally scattered throughout the city’s many green spaces.

You’ll also hear Portland referred to as “Stumptown,” this nickname stemming from Portland’s history as a logging town and ties to the timber industry. “Puddletown” is another nickname, for reasons you can probably guess. “Bridgetown” is yet another, as there are twelve bridges that cross the Willamette.

Locals don’t really use these nicknames in regular speech, but it will help you understand radio commercials and why there are so many businesses with “rose,” “stump” and “bridge” in their names.


You may hear of some guy named “Max” who seems to transport many of your new friends all over town. However, Max is not some dude who drives for Uber, rather, it’s our light rail system run by another name you should be familiar with: Trimet. They run the bus system and MAX lines.

There’s also a streetcar system that runs in the city’s inner core on the east and west sides. You can drive on the tracks for the streetcar, but not the tracks for the MAX.

Oh, and there’s an aerial tram. It consists of two big silver jelly bean looking things and it runs on wires from the riverfront in Southwest up to Oregon Health Sciences University, a sprawling medical facility that covers all of Marquam Hill, and is therefore known affectionately as “Pill Hill.”


The only other thing you need to know about sounding like a local in Portland is this: keep your tone laid back and friendly and you’ll fit in just fine.

Sue Campbell