An article in the Journal of English Linguistics (Soda or Pop?, #24, 1996) explores the way we address our favorite drink. Soda, which the average American drinks about 43 gallons of per year, has a lot of different names. Those names have been mapped by county so that the regions where different names are predominant light up like a Christmas tree. Check it out below (click to enlarge):
As it turns out there are three predominant terms that people use when asking for a soft drink. The first is the most logical, “soda.” It’s the most popular in New England, the Mid-Atlantic (where I’m from), and the Southwest. The term comes from the original name for carbonated beverages.
The next one is “coke.” This one is interesting because it’s the shortening of the world’s most popular soda, Coca-Cola. Talk about brand association. A friend of mine from Texas (the word is most popular in the South) actually asks for a “coke” in her home town, and then when prompted to specify what kind, she’ll say “Sprite.” To me this is very counterintutive because Coke and Sprite are nothing alike, but that’s just how the lingo has evolved.
The last one, and the bane of my existance, is “pop.” In terms of geographical area, this one is by far the most popular. The parts of the North that aren’t in New England, the Midwest, and the Northwest all predominantly use the term “pop,” as in short for “soda pop.” Personally, this one has always just bothered me because soda is just “soda.” Everyone has their own way of doing things I guess though.
One thing that should be noted is that this is a map that gives a percentage of use to each county. The counties are not all equally populated, so these numbers really don’t speak to the overall number of people in the country who use these terms, just regional approximations. It would be interesting to see that data as well.
For more info on the paper and the derivation of soda nicknames, check out this article on Strange Maps.