Seattle Now & Then: For April Fool’s, a newcomer’s guide to Seattle’s quirky codes

(please click to enlarge photos)

Salisbury Cathedral

Published in The Seattle Times online on March 30, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on April 2, 2023

‘Meet me at the Pig’: A newcomer’s guide to Seattle’s quirky codes
By Jean Sherrard

Forty years ago, on our honeymoon, my girlfriend and I — oops, “wife” was still a new and foreign concept — stopped in Salisbury, England. Hiking ancient Roman roads, we encountered a friendly gent.

“Are you a local?” we asked.

“Oh no,” he confided, “I was born four miles from here.”

Today, to help relative newcomers navigate potential April Fool’s foibles, our crack “Now & Then” team shares some quirky codes and stubborn semaphores from “Then” days that persist in the “Now.” Of course, only a small subset of Seattleites can truly claim lifelong residence. For the rest, here’s a helpful cheat sheet.

Grammar and pronunciation

Telltale tyro signs include adding definite articles to freeway names. It’s never “the 5” or “the 405.” Plain I-5 and 405 suffice. And “just Puget Sound,” says writer Adam Woog. He also recommends learning to pronounce a few place names. Puyallup (rhymes with “you gallop”), Sequim (“Skwim”) and Duwamish (“Doo-WOMM-ish”) for starters. Try not to giggle when old-timers occasionally still say, “Warshington.”

“The mountain,” when it’s out. Robin Walz offers the following meteorological advice: “If you can see the mountain, it’s going to rain. If you can’t, it’s already raining.”

The mountain

Though we are surrounded by mountains, “the mountain” refers only to Rainier. Historian Robin Walz suggests a handy conversation starter: “The mountain is out today.”

(Column partner Clay Eals notes that when he was young and the mountain was “out,” as in the above photo, and when his mother, Virginia, would drive him and his brothers across the Mercer Island floating bridge, she would point south and exclaim, “Get out your ice-cream spoons!”)

Cars and trucks roostertail along I-5 in a rare spring “downpour.” Frustratingly, there is no wiper preset for Seattle rain.


Former Port of Seattle commissioner Peter Steinbrueck observes that while many other large cities have more rainfall than Seattle, we have more words for it, including “mist, sprinkles, showers, drizzle, sleet, snowy mix and downpour.”

Photo archivist Ron Edge stands patiently at the corner of 145th and 15th on Shoreline’s border, ignored by a friendly scofflaw recently arrived from New York City.

On the road

“We don’t know how to drive,” insists column founder Paul Dorpat’s friend Pam Heath, “particularly at four-way stops.” But she and photo archivist Ron Edge agree on jaywalking. “Just don’t walk,” demands Edge. Heath adds, “I’ve seen folks at crosswalks waiting for the light to change at 2 a.m. Did I mention it was pouring rain? And they didn’t have umbrellas.”


Don’t need ’em. Stalwarts revel in “liquid sunshine.” Wags jest, “It’s a dry rain.”

A bronze statue of beloved TV clown J.P. Patches in Fremont do-si-do-ing with partner Gertrude. Their theme songs: a divinely silly William Tell Overture/“Dance of the Hours” medley performed by Spike Jones.

Kid stuff

Carol Wilkensen (Seattle-born on April 1) suggests arrivistes seek out YouTube clips of J.P. Patches or Stan Boreson, two bright stars of local children’s TV. Boreson’s home-spun ditties include the apropos: “Zero dacus, mucho cracus / hallaballu-za bub. / That’s the secret password that we use down at the club.”

At the Pike Place Market, locals meet “under the clock, by the pig.”

Places we visit — or don’t

“The Market” (never “Pike’s Market”) where we meet “under the clock” or “by the pig,” suggests Vanya Sandberg.  Visits to the top of “The Needle” are rare.

At nearly $30 a trip, locals rarely visit the observation-level “saucer” section

All preceding suggestions need be taken with a shaker of salt. And it’s time to fess up: I’m not a Seattle native. This April Fool was born miles away — in Renton!


No locals wait in line at the Market Starbucks–what’s more, it’s a mystery why anyone would!

Only visitors wait in line at the not quite “original” Starbucks, says Pam Heath

Below we also add a few more helpful suggestions from our locavore correspondents. Please feel free to send in a few of your own!

I remember we called soda “pop.” Friends back East have commented on this repeatedly over the years. Might be a thing in the West generally, not just PNW.
How about “liquid sunshine”?
The following aren’t turns of phrase, but are certainly more well loved locally than elsewhere.
Idaho Spud candy bars:
Idaho Spud copy.jpg
The entire line of Brown & Haley candies:
Mountain Bar.jpg
The Rainier beer commercials (specifically the motorcyle noise “raaaaaiiiinieeeeeer beeeeeeeeer”
The phrase, “The mountain is out!
Also applets & cotlets, Frangos…
“Meet you by the pig” is DEFINITELY for locals. At the market, got separated from my French friends. They insisted they were waiting by the pig. It turned out they were at another pig, in a pkg garage, maybe on Western, nowhere close to the fish market. (There’s more than one pig near the market??!!)

There are a few words that are at least west coast local when I grew up.

For example, we stand in line, not on line (like at the Market Starbuck’s). We certainly don’t queue or queue up (except me, having watched too many British PBS series).
And we drink pop, not soda. (Or is pop a Southern thing? It’s what I grew up calling it, raised by Texans.) Soda is what I drink with so-so bourbon.
Definitely not Pike’s Market. Pike Market or the Pike Market are barely OK, but mark you as an outsider.
We know how to say Puyallup. Also Duwamish. Sequim. Even Pshyt. Spokane. Tulalip. Uwajimaya.
The difference between cedar and Doug fir?
King County was named for a slave owner and was re-named for MLK (first county in the nation to do that, I think).

Ever notice on TV or in movies, Seattle is the place furthest from anywhere else. Like a family member lives in Seattle, or moves to Seattle. Frasier came to Seattle because it was as far away from anywhere else which could still be considered civilized. This has faded out, perhaps, thanks to the tech worker influx.

We would never do the Underground Tour. Do locals ride the Wheel? Certainly don’t go to the Market Starbuck’s. Nor Bruce & Brandon Lee’s graves. Or Jimi Hendrix.

Aurora and 99 are used interchangeably, which may confuse some non-natives. In the South Country is Pacific Highway S also ID’d as 99?

We slide through stop signs. Generally, we don’t know how to drive, things like four-way stop rules. On-coming cars that for no good reason wait for you to turn left before they go (not like when on-coming traffic is backed-up and they aren’t going anywhere anyway). What the heck? The Seattle Nice.

There’s definitely a passive-aggressive thing about driving the speed limit in the inside lane. “I’m doing the speed limit, why should I move over?” I don’t see that elsewhere.

I have seen people waiting for the light to change before crossing – at 2 am. Not crossing against the light in general is a give-away.

Pedestrians are NOT the lowest form of life.

Schooners, not half-pints.

The Needle is used at least as often as the Space Needle. The Center, not Seattle Center. The Regrade, not Denny Regrade or the Denny Regrade.

How we pronounce “route.”

Skid Road.

Sodo. And why it’s called that.

The King County Airport is still Boeing Field.

We hate the cruise ships. Or at least the boatloads of tourists they eject daily in the summer.

The Mountain, not Mount Rainier.

  1. Zero dacus, mucho cracus / hallaballu-za bub / that’s the secret password that we use down at the club/ Zero-dacus, mucho-cracus / hallaballu-za fan / means now you are a member of KING’s TV club with Stan.” And No Motion Shun” This was our go-to TV program in the fifties and sixties. Stan played the accordion – He inspired my first expression of musical interest and within minutes my parents bought me one. They said I would be popular at parties. I was. But theirs not mine. By the way No Motion Shun was the name given to Stan’s lethargic dog named after the Slow Motion IV, the hydroplane that set a speed record. No one outside of locals have ever heard of Stan or No Motion Shun. Speaking of hydroplanes…
  2. Miss Thriftway, Miss Bardahl, Miss Wahoo, Miss Hawaii Ki, Miss Pay n Pak, Miss Budweiser etc. were all household names for the hydros we worshiped as kids. If you were to mention Bill Munice or Miro Slovak to anyone outside of Seattle, they would have no idea who you were talking about. Still on Hydros…
  3. Thunder Boats. This was the name all hydros were given for the deafening sound they made from unmuffled Alison and Rolls Merlin 3000 hp engines. It was wonderful! If you said to an outsider “let’s meet at the Pits”  they would immediately know what you were talking about. It’s now the Stan Sayres Memorial Park. We watched the hydros from:
  4. The Floating bridge (the name before the 520 bridge was built but lasted for a long time). After 520 was as built it remained The Floating Bridge for “natives” and 520 was “the toll bridge” ($.35 tolls. No one took it because it was too expensive).
  5. Pill hill was, of course, the name given to the hospitals on Capitol Hill.
  6. For those with money they might going to the Golden Lion for dinner. It was in the Olympic Hotel and featured décor (highly inappropriate at any time in history), of the British Colonialization of India. The waiters even wore turbans. Back to kids TV programs…
  7. Wunda Wunda is my name.oh boys and girls, I’m glad you came. We’ll have fun and we’ll play games. Won’t you play with me?
  8. If you owned a boat in Seattle in the olden days, Doc Freeman’s was your place to buy gear for your boat. It seemed like everyone owned a boat. “Boating Capitol of the World” we were called. Sadly, this landmark went the way of Hardwicks, Jensen Motorboat Company and many others, but long before.
  9. Kalakala was the go-to ferry to Vashion Island as I remember. An awesome ride with its classic rattle and Art Deco streamline design. Outside of Seattle few would know about the Kalakala.
  10. If someone today asks me where Lowe’s Store is located I tell them it’s down where Sick’s Stadium used to be, until I realize they are either too young or not from around here.
  11. Let’s meet at Dag’s. Dag’s was the favorite before Dick’s and Burgermaster for a cheap burger, fried and a shake. It’s long gone but those of us of a certain age remember it well.
  12. The Aqua theater at Green Lake
  13. Chubby and Tubby where we bought cheap Xmas trees, shoes and jeans. It was a favorite place to go for discounted everything.
  14. Boo-boo and Fifi, Duh..
    (Jean comments: Rob and Carol are recalling Bobo, our local–and beloved–gorilla. Not to be confused with Yogi Bear’s adenoidal sidekick Booboo)
  15. Maynard hospital named after David Maynard, Seattle pioneer. Where Carol was born.
  16. Armory now MOHAI.
    (Jean comments: Of course, R&C are referring to the Naval Reserve Armory.)
  17. RH Thompson expressway. Few outside of Seattle would remember this transportation mistake, but if you lived around here this was a big deal in the 1960’s.
  18. Mossback was often how my parents described what it was like living in the rainy, cold  (mossy) Pacific Northwest. Of course, it’s also what conservative, curmudgeons are called as well but I believe we defined it differently back then. Although, I’ve definitely developed some curmudgeonly qualities as time marches on –  to go along with the moss!
Hmmm giving some thought to this, I can easily identify non-Seattle natives by a number of traits, behaviors such as those impersonal footwalkers who never look at you, let alone give a friendly “hello” as they pass by and are the same people who like to complain about the so-called “Seattle Freeze,” which we real natives know as a unusual cold wind that blew in from somewhere else!

Another dead giveaway is “Pike’s Market,” which of course is confused with “Pike’s Peak,” and has nothing to do with the Pike Place Market.

And our neighbor state to the south of Washington is mis-pronounced “Ore-gone.”

People not from here are under another big delusion that it rains alot in Seattle. In fact, many other large cities such as New York City, Boston and Washington DC receive more rainfall than Seattle does, which just have more names for than most other places, including “sprinkles, showers, drizzle, sleet, snowy mix, and downpour.” People from the east and other cold places usually like to wear scarves,  heavy wool button down overcoats in winter, which are unnecessary, impractical for drizzle, and can make you too hot in our mild climate even in winter.

Then there’s the Seattle hipsters, so into the “lumberjack metro“ look, beards and all, particularly popular among high income techies who can afford $350 flannel shirts from Filson’s, once the working man’s Alaskan outfitter established in Seattle in 1897 during the pioneering days of the Klondike Gold Rush.


I come from somewhere else. In fact, several somewhere-elses.

But I have lived in Seattle for 50 + years among many friends and family who were born and raised in Seattle.  I’ve heard tell of it all. Wunda Wunda, JP, Stan, thunderboats, Sick’s, Dick’s, Dag’s, Beth’s, the Market and more.

I’m now claiming some historic chops with my half-century of residence and my long proximity to those folks born here. 
So, may I add a reference to the brilliant game show spoof, “Pike or Pine?”, and a huge appreciative shout-out to “Almost Live” for thinking of it?

This question often comes into my head when I’m navigating to destinations on those two streets. And I laugh. 

Which reminds me of a pervasive and useful sentence for getting around the downtown core, “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Pressure”.

Translated it refers to the correct sequence of proper-named streets, two by two, south to north: James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring , Seneca, University, Union, Pike and Pine.

This trick saw me through my delivery days when I worked at the venerable sign shop, Balliet Screen Graphics.

JOHN WILLIAMS  (once a Seattle tour guide)