Background: My informant, EV, grew up in Puyallup, Washington, but currently goes to USC. Interview conducted in person.
Me: “Do you know any Washington folklore? Sayings, jokes, stories, etc.?”
EV: “Oh, I know one. I never say this, but I always hear like, older people say it all the time. So for context, in Washington there’s one main mountain, Mount Rainier, that pretty much everyone can see from like, their backyard if they live in Western Washington. Sometimes it’s covered by like fog or clouds or whatever, but especially on a sunny or clear day it can become visible. So people call Rainier “The Mountain,” because it’s like the main mountain, so when you can finally see it after the rain clears up or something, people will be like, ‘Look! The Mountain’s out!’ And that’s a perfectly normal thing for people to say with no context. Everyone will know exactly what you’re talking about. Like I didn’t realize how abnormal it was until I came to USC and people wouldn’t comment on like, the visibility of the mountains on a daily basis. Just a silly little Washington thing.”
Analysis: I find the colloquial/vernacular usage of this phrase to be really interesting. Once again indicating in-group/out-group behavior, where it almost becomes a right of passage to have the knowledge and experience to also be able to refer to Mount Rainier simply as “The Mountain.” I think the phrase also says a lot about the significance of the mountain to the culture and priorities in the area (nature), where it not only serves as a geographic landmark to admire and judge direction off of, but also becomes another core component to distinguishing the in-group from the out-group–to intentionally or perhaps unintentionally select Mount Rainier as the symbol for central identity. The phrase indicates a certain degree of rarity in seeing the mountain, so its presence isn’t taken for granted, and worth noting even in everyday conversation.