Soda vs. Pop: The Great Debate
What's in a name? That which we call a bubbly beverage by any other name would taste just as delicious… that’s how the Romeo & Juliet quote goes right? Shakespeare is saying that the naming of items is irrelevant. But most people would disagree with that sentiment when it comes to the naming of soda vs. pop. It’s a silly yet somewhat heated debate, with many ready to passionately argue that their side is the right one. And although it’s lighthearted, this naming divide reveals just how much language can vary across geography — and how our unique ways of saying things can help bring us together.
So where do you stand in the soda vs. pop debate? Let’s dive in:
Soda vs. Pop: Understanding Regional Vernacular
From “bubbler” vs. “water fountain” to “subs” vs. “hoagies,” the language, grammar, and pronunciation you use can vary depending on where you grew up. This is called regional vernacular or dialect, and it’s influenced by the history, traditions, and migration patterns of the region. For many, regional dialect is a stamp of pride and geographic identity. It’s a difference, but it’s one that often unites more than it divides. It helps signal to others where you’re from, creating community around region.
This vernacular pride and sense of geographic identity is especially strong with the often playfully heated “soda” vs. “pop” debate. Carbonated bevs like OLIPOP go by many different names. The three most common are “soda”, “pop”, and “coke”, although there are other regional variations like "cola," "soda pop," and "soft drink."
The one you use largely depends on where you are in the country:
- Pop: The term "pop" is most prevalent in the Midwest, Alaska, and northern parts of the United States. In these regions, asking for a "soda" might lead to confusion and a few eyebrow raises. Here it's much more natural to say, "I'd like a pop."
- Soda: Take a trip to New England, California, Florida, Hawaii, and parts of the Midwest around Milwaukee and St. Louis and you’ll find that “soda” is the preferred name for bubbly beverages.
- Coke: In the South, it’s not uncommon to hear the term “coke” used for all bubbly beverages, not just Coca-Cola.
Cartographer Alan McConchie helps outline this divide in his web project called “Pop Vs. Soda”. On the site, he invites visitors to fill out an online questionnaire sharing where they’re from and their soda, pop, coke, or other name of choice. To date, over 400,000 people have weighed in, with about 40% choosing the term “pop”, 40% “soda”, 15% “coke”, and the remaining 5% using other terms.
Here you can see the breakdown across the United States:
Image source: https://popvssoda.com/
Why Is Soda Called Pop? The Origin Story of Soda, Pop, and Coke
There’s not one clear story as to why pop is called pop, coke is called coke, or soda is called soda. But it’s likely that these regional preferences date back to the 19th century when carbonated drinks were gaining popularity. Different brands and marketing efforts used varying terms to describe their products, leading to regional distinctions. There are also a few location-based historical events that might have triggered this naming divide.
For example, the nation’s first soda fountains started in New Haven, Connecticut. So for East Coasters, the name “soda” likely came from those carbonated water dispensers using sodium bicarbonate (“soda”) to make drinks bubbly and fizzy. As for pop, the story goes that in 1812 an English poet named Robert Southey referred to the bubbly drink as “pop” in a famous letter, not knowing its official name but rather going off of the sound the glass bottle made when opened. Then the term “soda pop” originated in the 1860s — a mixing of the two common terms. Lastly, Coca-Cola was invented in Atlanta, Georgia, in the late 1880s, giving some context to the southern use of the term “coke” for all carbonated beverages. It’s likely these events triggered naming preferences, and those preferences persisted over time and got passed down from generation to generation.
Asking our OLIFam: Soda vs. Pop?
So, what do you call OLIPOP and other bubbly beverages? We asked our OLIFam to weigh in on this debate: soda, pop, or soda pop. Here are the results:
- 24% for "pop" with 127 votes
- 70% for "soda" with 372 votes
- 6% for "soda pop" with 32 votes
Whether you call it pop, soda, soda pop, or coke, it’s all OLIPOP to us. With over 16 different delicious flavors to choose from, we think the real debate is: which one will you try next?
- Frazier III, T., & Falcon, R. (2023, June 19). Do you say ‘pop’ or ‘soda’? Regional dialect across the U.S. explained. The Hill. https://thehill.com/changing-america/enrichment/arts-culture/4055442-do-you-say-pop-or-soda-regional-dialect-across-the-u-s-explained/
- Abadi, M. (2018, October 6). “Soda,” “pop,” or “coke”: More than 400,000 Americans weighed in, and a map of their answers is exactly what you’d expect. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/soda-pop-coke-map-2018-10
- Frazier III, T. (2023, June 16). Do you say pop or soda? ‘Regional Dialect’ across the U.S. explained. Fox59. https://fox59.com/indiana-news/do-you-say-pop-or-soda-regional-dialect-across-the-u-s-explained/
- The three most common names are “soda”, “pop”, and “coke”, although there are other regional variations like "cola," "soda pop," and "soft drink."
- The term "pop" is most prevalent in the Midwest, Alaska, and northern parts of the United States.
- The term "soda" is most commonly used in New England, California, Florida, Hawaii, and parts of the Midwest around Milwaukee and St. Louis.
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