Monday, July 14, 2008

Have A Coke And A Smile

Over at View From The Cloud, Jeff opened a firestorm by delving into the pop versus soda controversy. He also took time to ridicule those that called any soft drink a coke, whether is was bottled but the Coca-Cola corporation or not. This is a controversy of deep regional division as the following map (which I've used before) shows:
(click for a big version)

"Soda" is most common in the Northeast and California. "Pop" holds sway in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. "Coke" rules in the Deep South. I live in Maryland which seems totally befuddled. The most puzzling part of this whole kerfuffle is that few places call it "cola" which sure seems like it would be the most logical generic name for a carbonated cola-flavored beverage.

Most people when they see this map begin chuckling at southerners for not knowing that Coke is a brand, not a description. Jeff Foxworthy, in addition to his many fine redneck identification tips, once said that when people hear a southern drawl, they spot you ten IQ points right off the bat. He would know. That Foxworthy has a degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech seems to have slipped off his resume somewhere along the line.

IMG_7733aI don't see the problem with calling soft drinks "coke". People blow their nose with Kleenex and take Tylenol for headaches after drinking too much Lite beer and Xeroxing their butts on the office copier. Lots of brand names become generic terms, often against the wishes of the manufacturers. Just ask Bayer.

Most of the time, if you are below what I call the Sweet Tea Line and you order a coke, you'll get Coke®, so their is a certain economy in ordering it that way. I once worked with a lady whose husband was the head of distribution for Pepsi-Cola in the state of Georgia. We used to tease her about what a hopeless cause that was. Besides, since most places let you fill your own know, so what difference does it make what you call it.

IMG_7746The last time we were in Georgia, we made point to visit the new Coke Museum which is full of great memorabilia and history. But best of all, they have sampling dispensers where you can taste all the flavors bottled one every continent. The Japanese apple flavor was the best and some Italian style that tasted like quinine was universally despised by visitors.

Going over my old blog posts, I realize that I fall in the "soda" camp. For this (as with most things) I blame my New England bred mother. She used to go on and on about all the great flavors of Nehi (which morphed into Royal Crown) like Radar O'Reilly. She also used to insist that subs sandwiches were grinders and that aunt was pronounced "awwwnt".

Cold cut sandwiches are another source of regional name differences. In addition to grinders, there are subs and hoagies and heroes. I have an unproven theory that the hero sandwich is an Americanization of gyro.

But you can call food and drinks whatever you want, but as long as it tastes good, I'll be there.

BlatantCommentWhoring®: What regional name for a food or drink do you use?


Anonymous said...

As a native southern Californian, I would argue that "soft drink" is far more common there than "soda". Although "soda" certainly beats out "pop" or "coke". I also lived in Oregon and I can't say I heard people say pop.

As for baguette-based sandwiches, you can't really restrict them to cold cuts. Meatballs and other warm main ingredients are often included. "Sub" is slowly winning this war thanks to a certain international chain which sells them. (And you left po'boy off your list.) Also, your theory about the hero is currently the best guess. There was a shop in the town where I grew up that called them grinders, but I have to say that that chain has influenced what I call them.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Buffalo, which is "pop" country. I always use the soda/pop divide to demonstrate my long-held contention that, despite their location in New York and Pennsylvania, respectively, Buffalo and Pittsburg (my wife's home town) are really in the easternmost reaches of the Midwest.

Anyway, I grew up saying pop but at 18 was shamed into switching to "soda" by all the NYC area folks at my elitist Ivy League college. A trip a couple of years ago to Minnesota, where "pop" is so deeply ingrained into the language that they even use the word in supermarket aisle signs, reawoke my pop pride, and now I'm trying to bring pop back despite living in a world of soda-sayers.

To me, the most interesting things about this map are the two Midwest soda clusters around St. Louis and Milwaukee. What's the origin of these islands? Were the areas settled by east coast transplants? I also wonder how the Northwest came to be pop-sayers but not California or Hawaii.

As a final sociolinguistic note, a good friend of mine from Rochester -- just an hour east of Buffalo, and right on the soda/pop divide -- claims that when he was growing up, the term you used was actually a class marker: the respectible classes said "soda," while the masses stuck with "pop".


Anonymous said...

I wonder if the CA/NW divide has to do with the greater multicultural nature of the population. While the whites tended to come from all over the country, blacks mostly came from Texas, especially the Houston area. Add the Latino and Asian mix and it probably has an influence.

I have my doubts about the methodology here, too. I think there are some really small samples that totally skew the results. (Like the highly anomalous "coke" result in Trinity county California.)

And I'd like to know when the whole "coke" thing started in the south. I bet it's only in the last 40 years or so and I also bet it spread from Atlanta outward.

Alex said...

The map doesn't lie... it's soda. When visiting relatives in the mid-west it's pop. I wouldn't go so far and the above-linked author, but "coke" to describe any carbonated beverages is just weird; like calling your car a Honda regardless of the manufacturer.

Anonymous said...

I used "hero" for the sandwich until I got down here and got tired of explaining myself, so now I'm in the "submarine" class.

I'm definitely in the "soda" crowd when it comes to carbonated beverages, though.

Anonymous said...

Ooh--just thought of another one. I went crazy all over the place asking butchers and meat departments in supermarkets if they sold "Shell Steaks". They all looked at me as though I had three heads. It was awhile before I learned that this is what they're calling New York Strip pretty much everywhere else in the world.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

MN is all pop all the time - the darkest blue, no doubt about it.

I think I'll print this out and take it with me the next time I travel, you know... so I don't end up with a glass of soda water again.

My question is, who commissioned this study? And how much did it cost?

yellojkt said...

Last night my wife noticed that Jimmy Johns sandwich shop calls it soda pop to cover all the bases.

That UbiquitousSandwichChain seems to be tilting the country towards "sub" although WaWa has been heavily advertising "HoagieFest".

The map was done at Eastern Carolina University and I have no idea if tax dollars were used. If so, I've gotten my share of the cost out of it.

2fs said...

The map correctly IDs Milwaukee (and the shoreline along Lake Michigan) as an outlying "soda" region...although I'll say that, perhaps due to lots of Milwaukee-area folks attending college there, "soda" never sounded odd in Madison either. No idea as to why we're a soda island, though.

Not so sure about the "gyros/hero" thing: the two meat-in-bread items are different in shape, contents, even how you eat them. I think it's likelier that "hero" got attached to the sandwich via size (you have to be a hero to eat a big sandwich...or something like that). Basically, a hero's as much like a gyros as it is like a taco...and no one calls any sub-style sandwich a taco!

Dammit this is making me hungry...

apricoco said...

I live and grew up in South Florida and was truly horrified the first time I heard someone call a soda "pop". I was taking their order while waitressing (my first job) and had to ask them to repeat their request several times. Even still, I was confused. Pop? What the heck is that? Now, since I don't drink the stuff you can call it what you like, but soda is what is always referred to by me.

And subs are where it's at in my vernacular. Also, I prefer my peanut butter chunky, which is typically southern but since So Florida is such an outlier of southern behavior sometimes I get the eyebrow for that.