How to Sound Like a Local in Tucson

Whether you’re planning a move to Tucson and want to brush up on the local lingo, or you’ve just settled in the city and are looking to fit in, we’ve got your back.

It turns out there are several turns of phrase, colloquialisms and terms specific to Tucson, and if you know how to use them, you’re sure to sound like a lifer.

So get ready to wow with your gift of Tucsonan gab! Here are several common regionalisms that will help you sound like a local in Tucson.

Nicknames and demonyms

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. The correct demonym for a local is a Tucsonan. Some people are inclined to say Tucsonian, but they’d be wrong. However, you could be a Tucsonan who works at the Tucsonian, which is a local high school yearbook.

You can keep your Windy City and the Big Apple. The Old Pueblo is Tucson’s unique nickname and you’ll see it used everywhere. Although there’s speculation about how the city got its nickname, it is said that in 1880, the mayor sent telegrams to several high-profile leaders to announce that the railroad had come to the city. In his note to the pope, he referred to Tucson as an “ancient and honorable pueblo.” You’ll still see reference to The Old Pueblo regularly in business names, news and travel articles.

Flora and fauna

If someone says they found a javelina in the backyard last night, don’t be surprised or confused. Javelina are collared peccary, and they can get up to around 55 pounds. They’re not boars or wild pigs, though they might be mistaken for them when you spy them in the washes. Some think they’re ugly, others think they’re so ugly they’re cute, but if you’re in Tucson for any length of time you’re bound to see one.

Saguaros are gigantic cacti that are emblematic of Tucson and the Sonoran Desert. But pronouncing it wrong is a dead giveaway that you aren’t local. So, here is a hint: don’t pronounce the “g” as you would in English. The correct pronunciation sounds like so-WAR-oh.

You’re in the desert now

As a teen visiting my grandpa Tucson, he would advise me, “If you get lost, just look for a mountain.” It seemed a cruel joke; Tucson is rimmed by five mountain ranges and looking for a mountain got me incredibly turned around. But “A” mountain, also known as Sentinel Peak, is actually a part of the Tucson Mountains, southwest of downtown. It’s a great place to score panoramic views of the city. And, it’s useful for wayfinding if you need to get to the southwest side to see gramps.

Sure, Tucson is in a desert, but locals know we also have impressive monsoons in the summer, when we get about half of our annual rainfall. It’s also the only time of year when we don’t have our telltale “dry heat, so you might hear locals complaining about the humidity. During the rest of the year our humidity is enviably low, so we call it a dry heat. Of course 105 degrees is hot no matter how dry it is; smart locals always have water with them.

When it’s a dry heat, some locals swear nothing cools like a “swamp cooler.” But locals also know this evaporative cooler doesn’t work so well during the Monsoon, when the humidity rises. For that, you may want air conditioning.

If someone tells you to stay out of the “wash”, they aren’t talking about their laundry. In Tucson, the washes fill with water during the monsoons, and become rivers for a while. In the dry season, they drain.

Hot spots

If someone ask you if you want to come with them to the beach, don’t say yes unless you have a passport. The Mexican resort town of Puerto Penasco is considered by locals to be Tucson’s beach. Also known as Rocky Point, it’s just a 6.5 hour drive away from Tucson, making it the closest beach access for locals. here have been some travel warnings issued for the area from time to time, so be sure to check with the State Department before you go. If Rocky Point doesn’t seem right for whatever reason, San Diego, California is a relatively close stateside option.

Eegee’s. When you’re a local in Tucson, you know you can both go to eegee’s and order an eegee’s. While it’s a regional sandwich shop, the thing locals really go for are the frozen fruit drinks, known as “eegee’s drinks” or if you’re local, an eegee’s. The flavor of the month right now is blue raspberry, so make like a local and get one.

Now you’re ready to fire up that swamp cooler to escape the dry heat while taking in the views of those glorious saguaros and sipping an eegee’s. If a javelina wanders by a wash in the fading light of The Old Pueblo, you can rest assured, you are at last a Tusconan.



Charish Badzinski