When on a hot summer’s day you buy a carbonated beverage to quench your thirst, how do you order it? Do you ask for a soda, a pop or something else? That question lay at the basis of an article in the Journal of English Linguistics (Soda or Pop?, #24, 1996) and of a map, showing the regional variation in American English of the names given to that type of drink.

The article was written by Luanne von Schneidemesser, PhD in German linguistics and philology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and senior editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English.  And although there might be weightier issues in life (or even in linguistics) than the preferred terminology for a can of soft drink, there’s nothing trivial about this part of the beverage industry.

“According to an article last year in the Isthmus, Madison’s weekly newspaper, Americans drink so much of the carbonated beverages sold under such brand names as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew, and 7-Up that consumption averages 43 gallons per year for every man, woman, and child in the United States,” Von Schneidemesser begins her article. “The Statistical Abstract of the United States (1994) confirms this: 44.1 gallons per person in 1992, compared to the next most consumed beverages: beer (32.7 gallons), coffee (27.8 gallons), and milk (25.3 gallons).”

It must be that ubiquity of soft drinks that has made this pop vs soda map the single-most submitted map to this blog, sent in by over 100 contributors. The map details the areas where certain usages predominate.

  • coke: this generic term for soft drinks predominates throughout the South, has a strong presence in New Mexico and some purchase in Indiana. It also dominates single counties throughout some of the western states, like Colorado and Nebraska. ‘Coke’ obviously derives from Coca-Cola, the brand-name of the soft drink originally manufactured in Atlanta (which probably explains its use as a generic term for all soft drinks in the South).
  • pop: dominates the Northwest, the Great Plains and the Midwest, all the way up to western upstate New York and West Virginia. The word ‘pop’ was introduced by Robert Southey, the British Poet Laureate (1774-1843), to whom we also owe the word ‘autobiography’, among others. In 1812, he wrote: A new manufactory of a nectar, between soda-water and ginger-beer, and called pop, because ‘pop goes the cork’ when it is drawn. Despite its poetic pedigree, some consider ‘pop’ somewhat unsophisticated, because it is onomatopaeic.soda: prevalent in the Northeast, greater Miami, the area in Missouri and Illinois surrounding St Louis and California, Nevada and Arizona - as well as Hawaii. 
  • Soda derives from ‘soda-water’ (also called club soda, carbonated or sparkling water or seltzer). It’s produced by dissolving carbon dioxide gas in plain water, a procedure developed by Joseph Priestly in the latter half of the 18th century. The fizziness of soda-water caused the term ‘soda’ to be associated with later, similarly carbonated soft drinks.
  • Other, lesser-used terms include ‘dope’ in the Carolinas and ‘tonic’ in and around Boston, both fading in popularity. Other generic terms for soft drinks outside the US include ‘pop’ (Canada), ‘mineral’ (Ireland), ‘soft drink’ (New Zealand and Australia). The term ‘soft drink’, finally, arose to contrast said beverages with hard (i.e. alcoholic) drinks.

This map was found at the popvssoda website, dedicated to gathering info on the usage of pop, soda, coke and other variant terms throughout the US.

Strange Maps #308 

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