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Is it Puget Sound or ‘The’ Puget Sound?

Crosscut's Knute Berger says the area has been referred to as Puget Sound since the 19th century, though, originally, it was Puget's Sound. (AP)

There’s too much weird name-calling going on in Seattle and KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross is sick of it.

To his ears, anyone who puts a “the” before Puget Sound has it wrong. The Columbia River, the Pacific Ocean – those makes sense. But put the definite article before Puget Sound and you’ve been influenced by all the Californians who define freeways as “The 405” or “The 10.”

“There’s no real logical reason to hate the ‘The,’ except that it makes us more like California if we let this continue,” Dave said.

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Dave spoke with Crosscut’s Knute Berger, who wrote about the many ways place names and the local lexicon have changed in Seattle.

Berger explained how the area has been referred to as simply Puget Sound since the 19th century, though, originally, it was Puget’s Sound. These kinds of name flip-flops are quite common, according to Berger, such as with Seattle, which, when it was first settled was dubbed “New York,” only to eventually change to Alki, which beget Duwamps, which beget Seattle. New York’s preeminent street used to be called “The Broadway,” but is now just Broadway.

“Language is supposed to get lazier with time, but, you’re right, adding in an additional word doesn’t seem to make any sense,” Ross said. “It’s an idiomatic thing. Some things seem natural with the, but Puget Sound is not one of them.”

There are other local name failures, such as the tendency to say Pike’s Market, Boeings or Nordstroms.

“And I do that, I always call it Nordstroms,” Berger admitted. “So there are quirky things that are incorrect and much of this is what you’re used to.”

Berger added that neighborhood names aren’t as fixed as people think, either. There’s a development on North Beacon Heights that real estate agents are calling “SoDo Heights,” and another on MLK Way near Judkins Park that is being calling “West Leschi.”

“That’s really being generous with the interpretations of west,” Ross said.

“There are a lot of reasons that place names change and some of them you can’t put a pin it and say this is why, but others you can,” Berger responded. “You can say, ‘Well, somebody just wants to sell real estate.'”

Ross has an idea to put an end to the linguistic gymnastics once and for all.

“We vote on everything in this state, why don’t we just put these controversial place names on a state-wide ballot and let the majority decide,” he said. “Of course, with all the Californians, it might go the wrong way.”

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