Oregonians Talk in Oregonianisms

People in Oregon don’t talk like other people. Seriously, we don’t. It’s not just that they think we live in “Ora gone,” or that they think it’s weird that we didn’t honor Eugene Skinner with a town named “Skinnerville” but with one named Eugene. It goes far, far beyond that.   

Carpet Selfie: If you’ve been to the Portland International Airport, then you’ve seen the carpet. For some reason, good old PDX chooses the strangest and – to some – ugliest carpet possible. And we love it. This is why Oregonians, upon coming back home, will put their foot to the carpet and take a selfie, which is posted immediately to social media. It’s a subtle little way to let your people know you’re back. 

Duff: One of the many ways you can tell that Matt Groening is from Oregon is that he named Homer Simpson’s favorite beer Duff. I suppose other people have all sorts of names for forest litter, although I can’t imagine why they’d want to call it anything else. Every step you take in the crackling leaves as the fall turns to winter, you can hear it saying, “Duff, duff, duff….”   

Filberts: Oregonians – like most Europeans – eat filberts. In many other parts, people eat hazelnuts, although the fancy little nut is also called a cobnut or a plain hazel, and in Germany they’re called volbart. Who knows why anyone would call the little guys anything other than filbert – it’s by far the most fun to say.  

Jojos: People can call coated and pressure fried potato wedges all sorts of things, but “jojo” is truly Oregonian. As people from other states make their way north and west, potatoes are fried like the “French” and mashed famously like in Idaho – they are even sliced thin, battered, dipped in hot oil and called curly. But when they get to Oregon, they get to eat jojos, and it’s totally worth the trip.   

Lines: Odd as it might sound, in some places in the US people say they stand “on line” while waiting for something, much like the line is a balance beam on which one must wait. There’s also the English who “queue up” like they’re a document waiting to print in a 1990s office. Oregonians stand “in line” – always have, always will. 

Loggers: There aren’t as many loggers as there used to be in Oregon, but when you come across them, they are loggers, and not, under any circumstances, lumberjacks. The term lumberjack is a long gone one from an era when there were still virginally untouched forests to plunder and chop away at. So no matter what the boys at Monty Python might say about it, we are actually loggers, but we’re still okay. 

Muckamuck: A muckamuck or mucketymuck, especially a High Muckamuck, is a term widely used all over the English-speaking world for an important person, especially one who is excessively self-important. The term originates in Oregon, though. It came into English from the Chinook, where it originally meant “glutton.” Which is appropriate, since these days it indicates someone who is so very full of himself.   

Oregon Sunshine: Once upon a time, it was rare to see a person on an Oregon street carrying an umbrella in the rain. There wasn’t much point, because the rain was usually a fine mist that blew in your face as much as it fell on your head. We called it “Oregon Sunshine” – a jocular reference to the rarity of actual sunshine in fall and winter. That kind of rain has almost disappeared in recent years, replaced by the kind of rain you see most places, meaning the term has come to be a generic reference to the frequency of rain in the cold-weather months, although it’s also an alternative name for a common wildflower 

Spendy: Things can be “expensive” almost anywhere, but folks in Oregon are liable to find them “spendy” as well. And it’s been a fight for the average Oregonian’s swap the “ex” for an “s” and add the “y” to get there. 

Sunbreak: When a hole appears in the cloud cover and a blessed moment of sunlight comes through to remind you that there really is such a thing as a cloudless sky. These happen everywhere that there is rain, of course, but apparently only in Oregon are they so prized that we have a special word for them, and they get mentioned in the weather forecasts. Did Ray Bradbury live in Oregon for a while? Is that how he came to write that nightmarish story “All Summer in a Day”?  

By John M. Burt