Dick Maynard Column March 11, 2009

Pop vs. soda: a (mostly) civil war

What’s with “soda”? To this kid, “pop” rules. The debate rages. Growing up in western Illinois, whenever thirsty, and provided there was a nickel in your jeans pocket (childhood was a long, long time ago) a friend would suggest, “Let’s get a pop.”

No matter the thirst-quenching preference, Pepsi, Coke, Root Beer (Hires or Richardson’s), RC (Royal Crown Cola) or Dr. Pepper, all fell under the “pop” umbrella.

It was never imagined there were people in the world calling a soft drink something other than “pop.” Well, maybe the Chinese, but folks as close as St. Louis? C’mon.

Moving to Grand Junction, I joined the athletic juggernaut known as the Valley Agency slow-pitch softball team. Imagine my surprise when our hard-hitting left fielder, and team sponsor, said between innings. “It’s hot. Would somebody go to the refreshment stand and bring back a soda?” “Soda?” I asked. “Yeah soda,” came the reply. “You know. Coke or Pepsi.”

I’d never heard pop called “soda” so just assumed the left fielder talked funny because he was a Connecticut guy. I have a sister there. It’s a neck of the woods where yard sales don’t exist, all the stuff in the garage you don’t want is sold to neighbors at a “tag” sale. And folks from the
Nutmeg State eschew the “sub” in submarine sandwiches, instead calling them “grinders.”

But “soda” wasn’t just a Connecticut thing. Many other folks make the same mistake, calling pop “soda” and become more than a tad defensive when the error of their ways is explained.
Imagine, then, learning that more than half our country uses the wrong term when talking about pop.

Tasty/research.com explains that “soda” is the reference of choice in New England, the area around St. Louis and on the West Coast. Who knew? It’s Midwesterners and folks on the Plains and in the Rockies who prefer “pop.”

According to the site, “soda” derives from the soda bicarbonate that is combined with acid to create fizz in a soft drink.

The origin of “pop” is more interesting. The term is credited to Robert Southey, who coined the word in 1912 to describe not only the product but also the sound it makes when the bottle is opened. That makes “pop,” like “bow-wow,” “boo-hoo,” “fizz,” “flicker” and “flip,” onomatopoetic.

Categorizing soft drinks as “pop” or “soda” is difficult enough. Leave it to Southerners to make life more complicated. Golfing with a South Carolina radio guy during a broadcasting convention, he asked, as the cart lady approached, “What kind of Coke do you want?” I replied, “Diet.” Coke, I assumed, was all she stocked. But then he said, “I’ll take a Dr. Pepper.”

What? He explained, much to my chagrin, that in the South, all “pops” and “sodas,” no matter the brand, are called “Coke.”

You don’t think folks take their “pop” or “soda” seriously? At popvssoda.com, a county-by-county preference is listed for the entire United States. Colorado is “pop” country, Mesa County leans 75/25 toward “pop” and in Montrose County, nine out of 10 are on the same side. Only Boulder and El Paso counties are predominantly in the “soda” camp.

Just how serious are “pop” aficionados? Posted on one Web site, in capital letters was, “We will not be stopped, say it loud, say it proud. I WANT A POP!”

Others refuse to be drawn into the pop/soda debate. My bicycling buddy, The Bean Counter, says the argument is easily avoided. Order a beer.

E-mail Dick Maynard at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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