Pop vs. Soda Debate Rages On
By JASON STRAZIUSO
Associated Press Writer
Published September 12, 2002, 1:30 AM CDT
JACKSON, Miss. -- In the South it's called Coke, even when it's Pepsi. Many in Boston say tonic. A precious few even order a fizzy drink.
But the debate between those soft drink synonyms is a linguistic undercard in the nation's carbonated war of words. The real battle: pop vs. soda.
Order a soda in Michigan or Minnesota and you're clearly an outsider. Ask for pop in New York City and you risk being ridiculed.
Bert Vaux, a linguistics professor at Harvard University, says many Americans are overly passionate about how they refer to the popular beverage family.
"For reasons that are unclear to me people feel they have license to attack those who say pop as stupid or illogical," Vaux said. "I use Coke because I grew up in Houston. They're not too fond of that around here. However, it's not as stigmatized as saying pop."
The pop-soda-Coke divide has always created vague, and usually incorrect, assumptions about who says what where, Vaux said. But for the first time, Internet technology -- and 29,000 votes on a Web site -- has offered a definition of the debate's borders.
The site, created eight years ago as a college project, asks visitors to enter their childhood zip code and the soft drink term they use. Their vote is then placed on a map as a colored dot.
What has emerged is a swath of Coke votes across the South, pop votes in the Midwest and Canada, and soda votes in the Northeast and California, and -- curiously -- in St. Louis and Milwaukee.
Who's winning? It's, um, bottle neck and neck. Pop and soda each have about 11,300 votes, or 39 percent. Coke has about 4,800 votes.
Aside from raw numbers from the survey -- whose scientific value is a matter of debate -- the site features posted messages from Web surfers who are passionate about their word for the drink:
* Historically, the correct term is 'phosphate,' which was defined by soda jerks. ... Therefore soda is clearly WRONG.
* Be aware that soft drink is common in the South, where I am from, and using 'pop' or 'soda' will get you a VERY peculiar look.
New Orleans resident Kristi Trentecosta, a Coke person, is one of those who might look askance at people who say pop, a term she says is "creepy."
"It's kind of dorky. It's kind of like a 'gee wilikers,'" she said. "It's just one of those things that always sounded odd to me. I'm sure there's no good reason for it."
Logic has little to do with a person's position on the pop-soda spectrum, Vaux said.
"A kid hearing pop growing up in Ohio doesn't think, 'Hmm, that isn't sufficiently logical for me. I'm not going to use it," Vaux said. "They just use whatever they hear."
When Alan McConchie was a freshman at the California Institute of Technology in 1993, he broke the ice with new classmates by asking, "Soda or pop?"
One Web page and almost 30,000 votes later, the computer programmer is now a part-time linguist.
"Florida splits almost right in half between saying Coke and soda -- just like the Bush-Gore thing," McConchie said. "We're learning that half of Florida is a Southern state and the other half is people who moved in from the North."
Seethu Seetharaman, a marketing professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said McConchie's data isn't reliable because it's not a random sample.
But North Carolina State University linguistics professor Walt Wolfram disagreed, saying the pop-soda-Coke divide is regional and not based on race, age or income.
As for McConchie, he grew up in pop country -- in Washington state -- but later moved to soda regions: California, where he went to school, and New York state, where he makes his home. So what does he call a bubbly beverage now?
"I don't really drink it that much anymore," he said.
On the Net:
Pop vs. Soda survey: http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/%7Ealmccon/pop_soda
Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press