You know the story, the people on the East Coast say Soda for any carbonated beverage, people in the Great Lakes region and Midwest say Pop, and many in the South say Coke. What is really going on? What is behind this noticeable difference in lingo across the US?
Anyone who has grown up in the Great Lakes region or in the Midwest, only to move to the South or East, has noticed just how strange people look at you when you ask for a Pop instead of a Soda. Until recently, I never gave it much thought. I knew of a popular Internet study that mapped the difference in lexicon, but that was about it. I thought that it was an amusing topic of conversation and nothing more. It was funny, when I moved to Austin, Texas from Michigan back in 2002, around the time of the Internet experiment, my new friends, transplants themselves (Virginia and New York), joked that they could tell that I was from the Midwest just by using the term Pop. They thought that I had an accent, and I probably did.
It wasn’t until I read an interesting post on a forum that I ever gave the whole debate more thought. In the post, several people from the East Coast stated that Pop was a hick term only used by those living in rural areas. Well, it took a group of Michiganders and others from the Great Lakes region to set them straight. Even in the most populated city in Michigan, Detroit, a carbonated beverage is called a Pop – not a Soda, not a Coke. Almost no one calls it a Soda. If you do, people think that you are from out of state, or they give you a hard time. For instance, my boyfriend, even though he grew up and has spent most of his entire life in Bay City, Michigan, calls it soda. His brother, a high school senior, teases him about it relentlessly. As he stated, “you are from Michigan, it’s a Pop!”
If those on the East Coast think Pop is a hick term, those of us in Michigan associate the term Soda is East Coast snobbery at its worst. I don’t know how it came to be, but the use of the terms has helped define very distinct regions in the United States. As you can see, these differences aren’t going away anytime soon.
In the South, something very different took place. A Coke by any other name is still a Coke. In other words, no matter what you want as your choice of beverage, you still ask for a Coke. I’ve always wondered, if you really want a Pepsi or Dr. Pepper, how are they going to know if you ordered a Coke? I can see how the whole thing happened. The Coca Cola Company is based in the South – Atlanta, Georgia; it was simply a matter of using a brand as a general identifier, in much the same way that people use the term Kleenex to ask for any type of facial tissue. As you can see, the choice of word to describe a carbonated beverage has an interesting impact on our perception of others. As always, the easiest thing to do is to ask for exactly what you want. A Diet Coke please!