Colloquialisms are part of all regional cultures. When someone in New York asks if you want to go half on a pie, they don't mean apple. But, in many places, there are words and phrases we use that help define us as denizens (and often natives) of that specific location. Houston most certainly qualifies. Some of them are rather odd words we have adopted while others are phrases too often repeated for all the wrong reasons.
Why we use them is self-evident to anyone who has lived here long enough to adopt our unique language. If you haven't been here long, consider this a primer for how we Houstonians talk and, perhaps, a glossary of sorts for the next time you want to go local.
It's not far, like 30 minutes.
When asked where something is, our definitions of what is close by and what is far away is determined in relative terms. We gauge distance by how long it takes us to get there. And in a city that is 600 square miles in diameter, 30 minutes is considered close. This is particularly true for anyone who has to spend any time in rush hour traffic. In some cities, 30 minutes will get you in and out of the city limits. Here, it might just only get you to the grocery store.
It's (still) under construction.
Lamenting the never ending construction on our roads and highways is practically a regional pastime. When you invite people over for dinner, for example, it is considered polite to alert them to any potential road closures or traffic slowdowns thanks to the presence of ongoing road construction. In the case of Highway 290, we might just say "take it at your own risk."
It didn't rain here.
Yet another phrase relating to the size of our city, but also to our fickle weather patters. We get nearly as much rainfall per year as Seattle, yet our skies can be deceptively blue and clear just a few miles from where someone else is getting walloped with an intense downpour. So, when the weather guy says there is a 20 percent chance of rain, that means there is a 20 percent chance somewhere in the entire city will get some rain. Given our enormous size, 20 percent may as well be zero.
At least it's indoors.
This is a city that invented Astroturf so that we could move our sporting events into the air conditioning. Games that used to be played outside in the heat and swamp-like conditions of places like Buff Stadium are now kept at a perpetual mall-like 72 degrees. So, when someone says there is an event going on, particularly in summer, knowing that it is inside may be the deciding factor when it comes to your RSVP (that and parking).
The bayou looks high.
With as much rain as we get, there needs to be a measuring stick to determine just how rainy it has been. Enter the region's bayou system. Drive over any one of the 10 or so different waterways around town and take a peek off the bridge. How does the bayou look? Does it look high? If so, report to your neighbors and friends as soon as possible. This is code for, "It might flood later."
On the feeder.
When I was a kid, I used to see signs for "Frontage Road" and think that it must be the city's longest and weirdest street. It was everywhere. Of course, the frontage road was simply the common name for what we Houstonians call the "feeder." Apparently, we are one of the few places on the planet to call it that, so when someone says, "Oh, just get off on the feeder and hang a right," you won't have to give them a blank stare of confusion.
It's not the heat, it's the humidity.
This is, quite frankly, something said by people who live here and by many who get off the plane in Houston for the first time. The air hits you like a wall and surrounds you like a blanket. It's damn good for your skin, but it can feel like it is pushing down on you, too. Thanks to our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, we don't get a lot of 100-plus degree days in the summer. Our average temperatures that time of year rarely get above the low 90s, which is still hot but not 110. However, mix in that heavy air and it can feel like a steam room. It can look also look like one when, after an afternoon rain shower, the sun comes back out.
Coke (used interchangeably for any soft drink)
A standard conversation between someone ordering a soft drink and a server in Houston might go like this:
Server: What would you like to drink? Patron: I'll have a Coke? Server: What kind? Patron: Dr. Pepper
I don't know why this is the case, but instead of soda or pop or any of the other most common choices used around the country, we have to go with a brand name like asking for a Kleenex instead of a tissue.
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This can be replaced by, "Running 10 minutes late...traffic," frequently found in text messages. Everyone here has to face the scourge of traffic at some point, even if they work from home and barely travel 10 miles a week. The first time they have to deal with a malfunctioning intersection signal or drive around some orange cones cordoning off a cavernous pothole, the response is the same: Traffic sucks.
Inside the loop.
While the 610 Loop may create the border for the inner core of the city, it is as much a social and philosophical divide as a physical one. In the long defunct magazine Houston Metropolitan, they once created a table to help define the differences between inner and outer loopers. Under pets, outer loop folks had two golden retrievers while those inside the loop fostered 10 leukemia-riddled cats. Inner loopers' favorite opera was Aida while those outside it preferred "Winfrey." While the list was certainly tongue in cheek, it does give a broad idea of what can often be a fairly stark contrast of styles defined by nothing more than a freeway.