What Is That You're Drinking?

November 16, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

Jeremy Freese says that after some time away from his rural Iowa roots, he started saying “soda” instead of “pop.” (Yes, he's blogging again. Jeremy’s retirement from blogging was analogous to Michael Jordan’s first retirement from basketball: unwanted by all but the retiree – and mercifully short. He’s now co-blogging at Scatterplot ).

But the soda/pop split is not so much rural-urban as it is regional

From these maps it looks as though the stores in Evanston and Chicago are about as likely to sell pop as soda. In Pittsburgh, where I grew up, it was “soda pop.” We didn’t want to take sides on such a controversial issue. And in Boston, when you go to the deli (oops, I mean the spa), you get a bottle of “tonic” (pronounced “taw-nic”).

The maps are from Bert Vaux’s dialect survey, and I find it fascinating. For instance, I had that thought that the use of “anymore” without a negative to mean “nowadays” was pure Pittsburgh (“ I do exclusively figurative paintings anymore”). True, only a small minority (5%) find it acceptable, but they are fairly well dispersed.

Do you eat crawfish, crayfish, or crawdads? Do you have a yard sale, a garage sale, or a tag sale? Which word do you stress in “cream cheese” and which syllable in “pecan” (and is that “a” in “pecan” short or broad)?

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Well, maybe. I can’t remember much about Brillat-Savarin’s personality assessment instrument. But “Tell me what you call what you eat, and I will tell you where you are.”


lmw said...

I grew up in Kentucky and always ordered "coke" at a restaurant, which would prompt the server to ask "What kind?"

I am in Indiana now and say "soda" when I am out because if I say "coke" I will get a coca-cola.

Jay Livingston said...

I didn't copy all the maps, but if you go to the Website, you'll see a map for using "coke" as the generic for soda. Kentucky -- especially Western KY and near the Indiana border -- is well represented.

kristina b said...

As discussed in NY, we share that Pittsburgh thing. As commented over at scatterplot, in my youth there, it was just "pop". I literally never heard the word soda associated with the substance until I was in my twenties!

Jay Livingston said...


When I got to college and these guys from New York would say, "I'm gonna get a soda, want one?" I thought they meant a drink with ice cream, syrup, and carbonated water.

Anonymous said...

Oh lots more examples of these! How about subs, grinders, and hoagies? Aren't they also called heros somewhere?

Suckers and lollipops.

Milk shakes and frappes.

I could go on...

Important Websites said...

My mom is from detroit and she used to tell me the story of when she went to basic training, she told her roommate that she was going to get pop. to which the roommate replied "what do you want with my dad?"

I'm in chicago now and anytime i leave the state and ask someone where the washroom is I only get a puzzled stare...