Different people call sweet, carbonated beverages different things. Which is the correct term to use, if there even is a “correct” term? Do they all just mean the same fizzy drinks?
Soda. Pop. Soda pop. Soft drink. Coke.
Ah, one of the great questions of life, right up there with “paper or plastic,” “tastes great or less filling,” “debit or credit,” and “soup or salad.”
If you don’t want to sound like a fish out of water, you probably want to use the right one. But what constitutes “the right one?”
Like a lot of things, whether you call your sugary sweet (or diet) carbonated drink soda or pop… or even just “coke” depends on where you’re from.
While several studies have been done over the years, I’m going to focus on two in particular.
First of all, the website popvssoda.com has had a running survey dating back to at least 2002 — however, it is self-reporting with little filtering or cross checking.
The data is broken into “pop,” “soda,” “coke,” and “other” — and that’s where a bit of the problem lies. When one views the answers people have listed for “other,” one can see that not all the answers are entirely useful in this category.
One answer that seems to have been popular is “Uncle Meatball’s Wonder Tonic with a free swizzle stick for my Ultimate Bromance Lover Brad now drink it Fruity Pants,” while another is simply lyrics to the Barenaked Ladies song “One Week.” I somehow doubt that many people sit down and sing to their waitress at the local lunch spot just to order a refreshing drink.
Still, it’s a pretty good survey with a pretty good sample size, so let’s take a look at how it looked when we visited the site in 2020:
While the map is apparently only providing data compiled through 2015, the trends are clearly visible — if you live on the coasts, you call it “soda.” The midwest calls it “pop,” and for some reason I’ve never really understood, the south calls everything “coke.”
As for useful answers to “other,” “soft drink” was popular in North Carolina, California, and Louisiana, while “tonic” was a common choice in Massachusetts. If you’d like it broken down by percentage, it looks like this:
Of course, in the name of science, let’s take a look at another survey — from a rather unique source.
Tweet your drink
Edwin Chen is a data scientist, and in 2012, he published the results of some clever sleuthing he’s done by looking at people’s tweets.
After sampling geotagged tweets containing the words “soda,” “pop,” or “coke” — and ensuring the latter was not specifically about the Coke brand — he presents us with this map, where nearby tweets have been aggregated for a cleaner presentation:
As we can see, it’s rather similar to the above map — the coasts say soda, the midwest (except for bits of Wisconsin and Illinois) says pop, and the south still calls everything a coke.
Say it right
We conducted our own rather informal survey as well. Someone who was born and raised in Northern California tends to say either “soda” or “soft drink.”
Another person originally from the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York says “soda.” Had he been born and raised another 90 miles to the west, say in Buffalo — the maps indicate that he would most likely say “pop” instead. The dividing lines can be that close.
So in short, if you’re on vacation or are otherwise not native to your current residence and want to fit in: say “soda” on the coasts, “pop” in the midwest, and “coke” in the south — or just listen to whatever everyone else around you says and follow along.