Things & Zings
Look here for miscellaneous shorthand references and slang for the Seattle-area and the Pacific Northwest.
- 2001 Space Oddity: A jocular term coined by the Seattle P-I when reporting on the appearance/disappearance/reappearance of a certain steel slab following the turn of the Millenium. For more info, see the listing for The Monolith.
- Amazonian Lingo: Terms and phrases that are unique to the employees of Amazon.com, the main headquarters of which is located in the old Public Health Hospital, known more recently as the Pacific Medical Center (or also more slangously as Buck Rogers Hospital) located at the north end of Beacon Hill.
- American Messenger Service: The original name of United Parcel Service (UPS), which was founded in Seattle in 1907 by Jim Casey when he was only 19 years old. UPS now has over 340,000 employees worldwide and delivers over three billion parcels every year.
- The Aroma From Tacoma: The plume of pollution that historically emanated from Tacoma due to its pulp mills and the ASARCO copper smelter. The smelter has since been shut down, as well as a number of the pulp mills, I believe, so these days the aroma isn't quite as aromatic as it once was. To give you an idea of how bad it really was, I can remember as a teenager back in the middle-60's standing in our yard in the face of a southerly wind and being able to smell Tacoma--in Seattle's Northend! Also known as "The Tacoma Aroma." See also, "The Smell by the Bay" on my Streets & Beats page.
- Arrogant Aaron: An insider-term among local TV news people for Aaron Brown when he was a local news anchor for one of the local stations a few years back.
- Ave Rats: Homeless youths in the U District. A take-off from "mall rats" it would seem.
- Baby Bills: A term, in mocking reference to "Baby Bells," intended to denote the companies that will be spawned if a break-up of Microsoft results from the Justice Department's anti-trust suit against it.
- The Ball and Chain: On Labor Day, 1993, a group of art guerrillas, led by "Subculture Joe" (aka Jason Graham Sprinkle), attached a 700-lb ball and chain to the leg of the Hammering Man statue at the entrance to the Seattle Art Museum, undoubtedly in protest against the increasing yuppification and Californication of a town that has always been, but apparently no longer is, blue-collar to its roots. See also The Hammering Man and Subculture Joe below.
- Batcaver: Refers to the Batcave, which was a punk club in London where the English goth scene started. A reader has written me that if used it would refer to "someone with the 'batcave' look which is more punky mohawk, runny mascara gothlike" and that "the pre-goth term in this country was death rocker." This term may be out of fashion (if it was ever in).
- Bark Park: A humorous term for an off-leash area in city parks where dogs can run free. The bark parks are currently up for review. Here's hoping they get renewed, even expanded. Dogs should be able to run free. Somewhere, anyway.
- The Battle in Seattle: Heard on a local newscast to describe the protest/riot that marked the first two days (November 30 through December 1, 1999) of the WTO meeting in Seattle. See also The Seattle 500.
- The Borg: Microsoft. Also referred to as The Borg Collective.
- Big Rock:. Also known as The Wedgewood Rock, due to its location. Supposedly the second largest glacial boulder left in the Puget Sound era (dating back to the last ice age). The term "Big Rock" is said to date back to the original Native American inhabitants of the area. For a story and neat pic, see A photo of Wedgewood Rock at NWHikers.com.
- Brew Pub: A pub where the suds are brewed on the premises. Not to be confused with an ale house.
- Californication: What's happening on the Eastside, which has attracted an inordinate number of expatriate Californians (New Yorkers and other transplanted East Coasters, on the other hand, tend more to gravitate to Seattle, particularly to Capitol Hill and Queen Anne Hill).
- Chihuly: Dale Chihuly, northwest glass artist. One of the very few Northwesterners who are immediately recognizable on the basis of their last name alone.
- Copcycles: Cops on bikes. Seattle was the first major city in the United States to put policemen on bicycles.
- The Duck: Short for the Moby Duck, the Seafair Pirate's amphibious landing craft. See The Moby Duck.
- The Ducks: Amphibious craft (a DUKW landing craft) used here abouts for combination land and water tours. Not to be confused with The Moby Duck, a.k.a. The Duck, the Seafair Pirates' amphibious landing craft. The tour takes 90 minutes, starts at the northeast corner of 5th and Broad and covers downtown, the Market, Pioneer Square, the Waterfront, Fremont, Lake Union, and Portage Bay. For more info, go to the Ride the Ducks of Seattle page.
- Ferry Rage: A particularly Northwest-variant of "road rage," apparently increasingly afflicting the long-suffering local cross-Sound commuters (also see Prison Barges below). Ferry rage is most often triggered by line cutters of one variety or another -- if someone cuts in front of you and manages to get on the ferry, while you're one car short of getting on, you might feel at least a hint of the scourge. Unfortunately, once the cutter gets on the ferry, and you've been left at the dock (with an hour wait for the next ferry), it makes it kinda difficult to pull out your chrome 45 and blow them away. All you can do is scream helplessly.
Best Easy Day Hikes: Olympics by Erik Molvar / Paperback / Published 1998. Price: $6.95 at Amazon.com. Rated stars out of five by reader reviews.
- Foamer: A derisive term applied to supporters of projects one considers to be ill-conceptions, focusing on the "rabid" character of that support, I presume. Supporters of the Commons and of the extension of the Monorail have been so-called, for instance, by those who consider themselves more hard-headed and pragmatic, it would seem. Of course, the first often fail because they try to do too much, while the second seldom succeed because they never try to do anything or try to do very little (but merely deride others who try to do something as "foamers").
- Flying Saucers: A term used by Kenneth Arnold, a Seattle airline pilot, to describe nine otherwise unidentifiable objects he viewed flying around the summit of Mt. Rainier in the summer of 1947, which has now entered into the common parlance in reference to any unindentified flying object (or UFO). That Mt. Rainier's summit is often haloed by cloud formations of varying sizes and shapes cannot be discounted as a possible source and explanation of the so-called "flying saucers." The first photo of an alleged "flying saucer" was also shot in 1947 from the backyard of someone's home in Lake City, then just northeast of Seattle.
- Geezer Bar: Any tavern where the average age of the clientele is over 60.
- Geezer Lounge: A variant of Geezer Bar, referring to any cocktail lounge where the average clientele is over 60. If you want a stiff drink, and want to make sure it doesn't get watered, go to a geezer lounge. If you want a weak watered drink, go to some place with ferns. The lounge at Ernie Steele's up on Broadway used to be the quintessential geezer lounge. It had great atmosphere, including great period-piece murals in the lounge, the Ernie Room. Ernie Steele was a football hero from the leather helmet days. By the way, for those who are new to Seattle or have yet to visit, the difference between a tavern and a lounge in Seattle is that a tavern can't serve hard liquor (only beer and wine), while a lounge, which can sell hard liquor, has to be part of a restaurant that serves food (one of the last of the old blue laws).
- The Green Lake Itch: A relatively harmless swimmer's affliction caused by a parasite carried by the many ducks, geese, and other water fowl who frequent the lake, exasperated by the fact that the lake has had no natural outflow since before 1920, when Ravenna Creek was filled to create Ravenna Boulevard. Not necessarily unique to Green Lake, it is more generically referred to in the medical literature as one of the variants of "swimmer's itch." Swimmer's itch has also been reported at Seward Park on Lake Washington, for instance. The population explosion among local stay-at-home Canadian Geese has significantly added to the problem. The parasite is introduced the lake through the feces of water fowl, burrows under the skin of swimmers, and then, due to the human not being its natural host, is killed by the auto-immune system, thus causing the itch. Some preventive measures include: 1) applying copious amounts of waterproof sunscreen before entering the water, 2) toweling off or showering immediately after leaving the water, and 3) swimming (not wading) away from shore into deeper water because most parasites are found in shallow water. The Green Lake Itch is no recent phenomenon nor is it the only problem afflicting the lake. For more information, see Water Quality of Green Lake: Crisis and Resolution page.
- The Green River Killer: The most famous serial killer in a state known for its serial killers (Ted Bundy, the Hillside Strangler, etc.). The moniker came from the fact that most of his victims' remains were found dumped along the Green River. After many, many years, due to recently discovered DNA evidence, the authorities have finally arrested and charged a suspect, Gary Leon Ridgway. See Highway 99: A boulevard full of ghosts.
- The Hammering Man: A giant mobile statue of a man hammering an object, by Jonathan Borofsky, that is installed at the entrance to the Seattle Art Museum in Downtown Seattle. On Labour Day, 1993, some prankster art guerrillas attached a 700-lb. ball and chain to one of its legs (see The Ball and Chain). The prank was especially fitting, it seems to me, because the Hammering Man statue is not original, but a replica of another Hammering Man statue that the artist (not from the Northwest) had originally installed in Basel, Switzerland. The stunt was iconic not only of labor, but also of art enslaved, in other words. Whether the Seattle Art Museum knew they were getting "a copy" or not is open to debate (they paid $400,000 for it) -- at the very least this statue unmasks the true nature of Seattle's police art regime and its fauning adulation for everything that is not Seattle. Here's a pic of the Basel Hammering Man and the a pic of the Seattle Hammering Man so you can compare them. There are also apparently even more Hammering Man statues somewhere in Germany, another in Germany (Frankfurt), in Rancho Sante Fe, California, in San Diego, in Los Angeles, in Dallas, and in Seoul, Korea.
- The Happy Face: Yep, the Happy Face started in Seattle. Will we ever live it down?
- Homely Dames: A jocular, and only slightly derogatory, slight aimed at Holy Names Academy, a Catholic girls high school up on Capitol Hill, I'm told. Not sure if it refers to the girls or the nuns. I've been told by one reader who went to Holy Names, however, that the term referred to the girls, although I always thought that girls from Catholic high schools were kinda cute in their white blouses, plaid skirts, and knee socks. Most of the girls I knew who had gone to Holy Names made it a point to swear and drink like longshoremen.
- K2: The ski company, not the mountain. The world's first fiberglass snow ski was invented by K2, located on Vashon Island, just a short ferry ride away from either Seattle or Tacoma.
- The Lady Bug Guy: Buddy Foley, an artist who for years has sold lady bugs, as well as math books, from his colorfully painted studio on 15th Avenue Avenue West, but he might not be there for long due to an impending eviction notice. For details, see Pop collector of memorabilia from "cool events" gets eviction notice. Hopefully, he and his collection can find a happy landing spot.
- Liquid Sunshine: Rain.
- Microserf: An employee of Microsoft, which is renowned for long hours and demanding total dedication, but also for correspondingly high rewards and paybacks (among the earlier employees, even the secretaries got filthy rich).
- The Moby Duck: The pirate ship of the Seafair Pirates, a World War II-era amphibious landing craft, seen often at local parades. Not to be confused with The Ducks, which are similar craft providing land and water tours.
- The Monolith: A sculpture/structure that mysteriously appeared on Kite Hill in Magnuson Park on New Year's Day, looking suspiciously like something that got mislaid from the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Then, equally mysteriously, it disappeared, only to be found resting on Duck Island in Green Lake, only to disappear once again. A group, calling itself "Some People," claimed responsibility for the monument's siting at Magnuson Park, in order to celebrate the Millenium, but said that the 350-lb. monolith was then stolen by somebody else who then planted it on Duck Island. "Some People" then stole the monolith back (from "Some Other People," we can only presume) and turned it over to the Seattle Parks Department, which later reinstalled it on the same spot where it had first magically appeared (of course, 30,000 years from now, the earth as a consequence will be populated by a race of super-intelligent geese, with humans nowhere to be found), anchoring it with "7,000 pounds of concrete and a lot of rebar," according to Stan Stapp, only to remove it again shortly thereafter so it wouldn't interfere with the kite flyers on Kite Hill (as far as I know it is still held in storage by the Parks Department, so it could magically reappear at some point, since there's just no telling what some people might do). For a couple of stories on this from KOMO-TV, see Mysterious monolith reappears on Green Lake island and The Monolith Is On The Move Once Again. See also Mysterious monolith materializes in Magnuson Park on January 1, 2001 from HistoryLink.org, which also reveals that the whole plan was originally hatched at the Blue Moon Tavern by "seasoned pranksters and adult juvenile delinquents," according to one of the people who helped build the Monolith. Click the following to see Some pics of the monolith and another good pic of the Monolith. Seattle, of course, has a long history of "guerrilla art," including the ball and chain that was affixed overnight once to the Hammering Man statue at the entrance to the Seattle Art Museum.
After the Monolith disappeared from its original site on Kite Hill, another mysterious object appeared in its place in the same location, a more than man-sized dummy Army bomb planted nose-down in the grass, thought by some to be an allusion to another Stanley Kubrick movie, "Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (no group, neither "Some People" nor "Some Other People" have claimed responsibility for that stunt) -- for a story and pic, see Another art statement at Magnuson Park? from the Seattle P-I.
Interestingly, the story of the Monolith got world-wide coverage -- for a couple ABC News stories on the Monolith, see Voila! Itís Back and Back Where It Belongs. See also 2001 Space Oddity.
- Muzak: A lot of people don't realize that until fairly recently, Muzak was a Seattle company and that Seattle was, for all intents and purposes, the elevator (or supermarket) music capitol of the world. In 2000, Muzak relocated to South Carolina, ostensibly because of the higher cost of doing business in Seattle and a desire to get closer to their customer base, a majority of which is located on the east coast. For more details, see Remaking Muzak: A moving story.
- Orca: Also known as a killer whale, although their reputation for ferocity has been grossly exaggerated. Linnaeus originally classified the killer whale as Dephinus Orca (sometimes translated as "demon dolphin," because orcus in Latin means "lower world") in 1758, but later coined a new genus, Orcinus, to distinguish it from the smaller dolphins, with its full genus/species name being Orcinus Orca. A number of "pods" of Orcas live in or around Puget Sound. Other names for the killer whale include blackfish (a misnomer, since a whale is not a fish), grampus, and sea wolf.
Marine Wildlife: From Puget Sound Through the Inside Passage by Steve Yates / Paperback / Published 1998. Price: $11.96 (20% discount) at Amazon.com. Rated stars out of five by reader reviews.
- The P-I: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle's morning rag. The P-I Globe is a local landmark. You can see a picture of it at Seattle Odyssey.
- The Prison Barges: A less than complimentary reference, I'm told, to the ferries running between Bremerton and Seattle. Lately, two of the four ferries broke down at the start of the same day -- nobody bothered to explain to the waiting passengers that, or why, they were going to be waiting a few extra hours for their ferries. Nor was it considered worthwhile to pull any ferries off of other runs to help out. Bummertown be damned, in other words.
- The Queen of Kitsch: Ruby Montana, who until recently ran a "kitch boutique" (I suppose one might call it), Ruby Montana's Pinto Pony, in Pioneer Square and was the guiding spirit behind the world famous Spam Carving contest that was the pivotal event of Seattle's Fat Tuesday celebration. Fat Tuesday has since morphed into Seattle's Mardi Gras celebration (very original) last year and even featured a revived Spam Carving Contest sponsored by Ruby and judged by Tom Robbins. Ruby has since closed up shop and has moved to Palm Springs, most likely in search of more kitsch. The future continuance of the Spam Carving Contest, without Ruby, is highly doubtful. For a story on Ruby's move to Palm Springs, see Montana leaves Washington for California". See also Pinto Pony saddles up for the desert. Ruby also has her own site: http://www.rubymontana.com/.
- Shooting the Tubes: A term for rather illegal drag races that used to be run through the old Mount Baker Tunnels, which led to the old Mercer Island Floating Bridge (the one that sank).
- The Seafair Pirates: The Seafair Pirates have long been a fixture of Seafair, Seattle's summer festival. As of late, however, there has been a PC-ish movement afoot to put a halter on the Pirates, claiming that they needlessly traumatize, alarm, and frighten small children, damaging their tender little psyches. Avast, off with their scurvy little heads, matey! Check out the official page of the Seafair Pirates. For some interesting Pirate lore, check out The Pirate Chronicles at Hurricane's Home Port.
- Seagoth: Not a member of the Seattle gothic community, as one might surmise, but a member of the "seagoth" (seattle.gothic) mailing list. See also, seagoth.org, a site primarily dedicated to participants in the seattle.gothic mailing list, although also a good source for club listings and schedules.
- The Seattle 500: Refers to the 500 some protesters who were arrested during the first two days of the WTO conference (see The Battle of Seattle). Not to be confused with the Seattle Seven (see the Blasts from the Past page).
- A Seattle Tux: A flannel shirt and clean jeans.
- A Seattleite: A resident of Seattle. Also sometimes spelled as "Seattlite."
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- Softies: Another term, plural, for Microsoft employees.
- Subculture Joe: Jason Sprinkle, a guerilla artist, reknowned for a lunch hour art prank turned bomb scare at Westlake Mall that closed downtown in July of 1996, due to perhaps overly jittery officials following the Oklahoma City bombing, as well as leader of Fabricators of the Attachment, which attached a 700-lb. ball and chain to the leg of the Hammering Man scupture at the Seattle Art Museum. He died May 16, 2005, at age 35, when he was struck by a train in Long Beach, Mississippi.
- Summer: July and August, if you're lucky.
- Sylvester the Mummy: The star curiosity of the Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, along with a mate, Sylvia the Mummy, down on the Waterfront. Sylvester was, supposedly, mummified in the Arizona desert over a hundred years ago, after being shot. Click here for a picture of Sylvester (and Sylvia).
- Tacomatose: Refers to someone (usually in their 20's) who is stuck in Tacoma, not doing much, maybe
living with their parents, with no intent to move on or do anything much with their life, submitted by someone who'd apparently spent a fair amount of time stuck in Tacoma.
- A Tear-Down: Any waterfront house on Lake Washington that is more than ten years old.
- The Times: The Seattle Times, originally Seattle's afternoon rag. Not to be confused with The New York Times. I used to subscribe to the P-I, because it was the morning rag. I then subscribed to the Times and got used to reading the paper at dinner, rather than over breakfast. Now that the Times is also a morning rag, I'm missing my afternoon paper!
- Waldo: The name given by its raisers to a rare "corpse flower" that was loaned by UW to the Volunteer Park Conservatory so room would be available to accomodate the crowds intent on witnessing the redolence of its annual blooming, said to resemble the smell of rotting corpses.
- The Water Taxi: A boat that now ferries commuters between West Seattle and Downtown. There is also discussion of running a water taxi between Kirkland (on Lake Washington) and Lake Union. Hey, while we're at it, why not bring back the Mosquito Fleet...
- The Westlake "Bomb": A stunt pulled in 1996 (by "Subculture Joe," aka Jason Sprinkle, the same person
who'd led a group that attached the ball and chain to a leg of the Hammering Man statue in 1993), which led to an unintended bomb scare and the evacuation of the core of downtown Seattle for several hours. Sprinkle parked his beat-up pickup truck in Westlake Center (or Mall), carrying a metal heart sculpture in its bed, slashed its tires, and then left (apparently trying to send a message to Seattle to "have some heart," I can only surmise). Some graffiti scrawled on the truck was soon noticed, however, which read "Timberlake Carpentry Rules (the Bomb)!," which had been scrawled a full two years earlier (with "the Bomb" simply being Sprinkle's own affectionate name for his truck), and which then lead to the evacuation and calling of the bomb squad, which probed the truck using a bomb-squad robot, before finally declaring the truck as bombless, but only after several hours during which the retail core of Downtown Seattle was brought to a complete standstill. That this happened not long after the bombing in Oklahoma City was no help. The stunt ended up costing the city and surrounding businesses many thousands of dollars (local stores claimed they lost as much as $20,000 per hour during the evacuation). Although the truck (or the steel heart it was carrying) was only an "art bomb," that didn't stop it from exploding in everybody's faces, including Subculture Joe's, who was later prosecuted on felony bomb hoax charges, although the case was eventually plead down to criminal tresspass, a one-year deferred sentence, payment of court costs, a $1,000 fine, and that he have no contact with Westlake Mall during his probation period -- for an online piece on the legal aftermath, see Seattle artist's protest misread by paranoid cop, DA calls for Death Penalty.
- The Wheedle on the Needle: Supposedly, the light on top of the Space Needle.
- Whoops: WPPSS, or the Washington Public Power Supply System. The name originates from WPPSS defaulting on two and a quarter billion (yes, billion) dollars in public bonds back in 1983, the largest bond default in U.S. history at the time. The bond investors, following the oil shortages of the 70s, had been drawn into investing in a gradiose plan to build five nuclear power plants, of which only one, at Hanford, ever got up and running. The others turned into proverbial money pits. WPPSS is still around operating the one nuclear power plant that did get finished, although it has never been able to live down its principle debacle. When it announced a couple of years ago that it was thinking about changing its name, the Tri-City Herald held a poll for new names, with Columbia River Atomic Plant (CRAP) being the most suggested replacement. However, with the current public power crisis catching government leaders from California to Washington with their pants down (are our politicians really this myopic?), talk has started up again about finishing the moth-balled WPPSS plants. It would be nice if all that money wasn't completely wasted, I suppose.
- Winter: November, December, January, February, and March (Suicide Alley).
- Yakimaniac: A dyed-in-the-wool resident of Yakima, I presume.
For more info on Seattle's neighborhoods, districts, areas, streets, avenues, highways, freeways, transportation, maps, etc., see A Seattle Directory.
The terms listed here range from the frequently to the seldomly used. Non-Nortwesterners should use these terms (in the vain hope of fitting in) only at the risk of being greeted by frequent blank stares. While some terms are known by virtually all Northwesterners, and actually spoken by many, others are known only to some or a few, while spoken by even fewer. However, if you hear one said, armed with this lexicon, you'll know what is meant.
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