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Learn the language. Learn the culture.


Even having spent only 72 hours in the city of Portland, I have noticed there are certain words and phrases I’ve never heard before. I’m not in a different country, but during my interactions with Portland thus far, I find myself hearing and observing an unfamiliar dialect. Here is a list of words and phrases I’ve learned in my first few days here.


Stumptown Coffee Roasters, A Local Coffee Chain

City of Roses and Stumptown – Two nicknames for Portland, both are extremely popular names for businesses. City of Roses was adopted around 1905 after the Portland Rose Society organized the planting of 20 miles of roses for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, and the city loved them so much it started Portland’s annual Rose Festival. Stumptown refers to the population growth in the city after 1847, when there was said to be “more stumps than trees” to make room for the city’s expansion.

Docking Station for Nike Biketown Bikes

Biketown, Trimet, and Lightrail – All different forms of transportation to get around Portland. Biketown sounds like another nickname, but is actually the bike rental service sponsored by Nike. Trimet is organization for the government transportation services, busses and the commuter and lightrail. The lightrail is Portland’s above-ground subway system.

Houselessness – a state of living without safety and shelter. While on our walking tour, there were many people sleeping on the streets and lined up outside a shelter we walked past. The guide addressed what we saw, and talked a little bit about Portland’s houseless population. When I saw these people, the label that came to my head was homeless, so I was surprised when I heard a different term. I immediately realized why it was important to replace “home” with “house.” Homeless implies the person is in isolation without any sort of home, which could have many definitions, from a friend or loved one to the city one is born in.

Sundown Town – A neighborhood that practices segregation by enforcing restrictions excluding people of non-white races to not be able to leave their homes after sundown through some combination of discriminatory local laws, intimidation, and violence. This term touches the surface of Oregon’s deeply complicated and imbedded

An artist’s rendition of a sign indicating a ‘Sundown Town.’

racially discriminatory past. And even more disturbing from the fact that these laws existed is that, according to our tour guide, these laws have left such deep impression that even though they are no longer written, there are areas of Portland where these laws go unspoken, so non-white people do not go outside at night in fear of violence or intimidation.


As a language minor, I have experienced how certain parts of a language give insight into the culture of the people who speak it. So with these seven words I get a picture of Portland that shows an interesting and complicated city with a progressive attitude but segregated past. I’m excited to see what new words I’ll learn in the next eight weeks that will continue to paint my vision of Portland.