Every area has its linguistic quirks, and the San Jose – Silicon Valley – Santa Clara County region is no exception. Some of it is in the words we use, some of it’s the way we pronounce things, and some of it is just the way we think.


The Hill – refers to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Going “over the hill” means going to Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, or somewhere along the coast.

The City – means San Francisco, even though it’s smaller in population than San Jose.

South County – areas such as Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin and Coyote Valley (and outlying areas)

The Bay – is the San Francisco Bay, not the Monterey Bay.

The Airplane Park – this is Oak Meadow Park in the Town of Los Gatos

Paul Masson Winery – is now known as the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, but long time locals and natives may call it by its old name

Northern California or NorCal – starts somewhere around this area and goes north from here

Central California or Central Coast – Santa Cruz is really part of the Central Coast, but we tend to think of it as NorCal territory

LA – is Los Angeles, not our own Los Altos

The Mountains – normally this means the Santa Cruz Mountains, the coastal range (unless you’re discussing skiing)

New Almaden – is actually the old part of Almaden, an historic district where the old mercury mine used to be until a better, safer way was found to extract gold ore.


In Silicon Valley, we don’t tend to say “it’s ten miles from here”, but instead usually say “it’s a half an hour from here”.

It’s about an hour or a bit more to The City.  About a half hour from Los Gatos to get over the hill, longer if there’s beach traffic or you’re starting in San Jose.

If you drive fairly quickly and don’t stop much, it’s about six hours to LA.

Traffic and Freeways:

Rush hour traffic – runs from appx 7 – 9am or a little later and 3-7pm on weekdays.  Just say no.

Beach traffic – on hot summer weekends or on holidays, beach traffic can kick in as early as 10am going over the hill and starts back at 3 or 4, depending on whether or not the fog is rolling in.  Go early and stay late, or go early and come back early, but avoid beach traffic: it can make the trip twice as long, especially if your trip involves getting onto Highway 1 and going south to reach Aptos, Capitola, Soquel, etc.

Freeways – although our freeways have names, such as “The West Valley Freeway” or “The Nimitz”, we don’t ever use them. Ever.  Freeways are called by their numbers, with out a leading “the” (which you’d find in SoCal or on the east coast, but not here).  So we’d call it “Highway 85”, NOT “the Highway 85” and NOT “The West Valley Freeway”.  (In contrast, in southern California they wouldn’t give the number, they’d say “take the Pasadena Freeway“.)

Highways – highways are unpredictable.  Sometimes we call them by number, as in “highway 9” and other times by the name “Los Gatos – Saratoga Road”.

County Roads and State Routes – does anyone ever use those numbering systems? No. They don’t.  At least not here in the “South Bay” area.  I have no idea why maps include them.  Tell someone you’re taking county route blah-blah-blah and they will think you’re nuts.  Save yourself embarrassment and forget that system entirely. Just use the street name.

Other Stuff:

Skiing – downhill snow skiing. Water skiing is always referred to as water skiing. Just skiing is snow skiing. Cross country skiing is always called cross country.

Home – can mean your residence, city or town, Santa Clara County or even California, if your plane is touching down after a long trip out of state.

Sharks – the team, not the animal.  San Jose nominally touches the San Francisco Bay at Alviso, and yes, there are some small sharks in the bay, but don’t expect anything like a Great White in Alviso.

High-Tech – can mean engineering, software, biotech, webstuff, social media, Google, Facebook,  or any other number of things that the average non-high-tech person doesn’t understand.

The Merc – refers to the largest local paper, the San Jose Mercury News.

Dressing up – if you want more than khakis and sandals in spring, summer or fall, be very explicit.  Most of the population, particularly those in high-tech, don’t dress up on a regular basis.

Spanish names – if you speak Spanish or Italian, hearing how “San Jose”, “Los Gatos”, and many other places are pronounced may make  you cringe.  So don’t stress about the right way to pronounce these places.  If you say it the way a place is supposed to be said, you’ll be right.  And if you mess up, you’ll sound like a local.  My favorite:  San Jose as “Sannozzay”.

Mixing languages – many, many people here speak another language (most popular are Spanish and Viet Namese, but loads of other languages are heard here), and it is not unusual to hear conversations between bilingual people dart in and out between two languages (English and Spanish, English and Russian, English and Hindi, you name it).  We are used to it and you will get used to it too.

Mixing languages and high-tech – if you are lucky enough to know anyone in high-tech, you may have to sometimes remind him or her that you aren’t fluent in that language. They sometimes slip into that high-tech lingo without even noticing that they’re doing it.  It sounds like English but isn’t, so just gently remind them and they’ll kindly translate.