Tuesday, September 2, 2008


The Pop Vs. Soda Map (The Pop Vs. Soda Map from Strange Maps.)

When I was growing up, the generic name for a carbonated beverage was a coke, whatever brand it was. If you wanted the original, most folks called it Co-Cola. I personally preferred RC Cola, when I could get one, which was not reliably until I was 12 and could scrounge money to buy it myself -- they were still a dime then, plus bottle deposit if you left the premises with it. Canned soft drinks you opened with a church key. Pull-tabs didn't come out until after we returned from Brazil, when I was 13, and they were the pull-it-off variety that tended to fail if you weren't careful, making you search the kitchen drawer irritably for the church key again.

We moved often when I was a kid, and in addition to packing up everything in the trailer, getting us kids settled into territory in the back seat (my older brother tortured us relentlessly if we were in reach, which of course we were while trapped in the car), and boxing up cats/trying to keep dogs from urping, my poor mother also had to pack enough grub to keep us fed along the way. We sometimes had a cooler, sometimes did not, and easy-fix options were extremely limited. I mostly remember egg salad sandwiches with pickles the first day, peanut butter on crackers after that, with water to wash it down.

We absolutely did not eat out: Far too expensive. The first drive-in we ever tried was when I was seven and it was because we were visiting my aunt and uncle, who paid. It was a McDonald's, back when they were just starting out, the menus weren't yet standardized, and there really were golden arches out front. I remember liking that the burgers were small, kid size, and the paper straws had red and white stripes like a barber pole. But most of the towns we lived in had only one drive-through place, and that was not a McDonald's.

Delaware Punch bottle If we were crossing the desert, parched and whiny, and my parents felt flush, when we stopped for gas my dad would allow us to get cold drinks from the coke machine. These were the old fashioned kind of machines, which came in two main varieties: An upright with a glass door that you opened to view the ends of the bottles, and a horizontal chest variety where you lifted a massive lid and looked down on rows of bottles, again identified by their caps. In both cases, you put in your dime and pulled hard on the bottle (in the chest, you had to position the right bottle by sliding it along tracks to the exit bay). If your hand slipped, the bottle stayed in and you lost your money, so we were never allowed to pull out our own bottle.

We also were not allowed to choose our beverage, at least, not me and my little brother Bill. Our teenaged older brother probably did get to make his choice, and he got a bottle all to himself. Mama liked Pepsi, Daddy got Coke in those little bottles, and Bill and I were forced to share a Delaware Punch because Mama thought (unlike most people of her day) caffeine was bad for children and Delaware Punch had a strong grape juice component. It was sour, we thought, but we didn't complain after Daddy said "Would you rather not have anything at all?" "No sir" with downcast eyes and a meek face.

The best thing about those machines was how extraordinarily cold they kept the drinks. This may have been helped by the syrup mixture of the times, which was vastly superior to the taste of them now. Even in the blast furnace summer of West Texas, there would often be a plug of sweet, crunchy ice in the neck of the bottle, absolute heaven.

Sharing with Bill, however, was problematic. For a long time, the issue was simply how to divide the contents. Mama's usual method was to let one of us decide on the dividing line and the other get first choice, but that didn't work on the squat, bottles of Delaware Punch. She settled on making us take turns at sipping. I was at a disadvantage with this because my habit was to eat and drink very slowly. I was generally anorexic, trying not to eat at all. With Delaware Punch, of course, I was quite willing to partake but I preferred to drag it out. However, if I didn't take a big gulp, Bill would and he'd wind up with much more than his share. One or the other of us often choked on our too-greedy swigs of the slightly tart, barely carbonated brew.

Then, one trip, Bill figured out if he dropped a wad of spit into the neck of the bottle where I could see it, I wouldn't want to drink any more from that bottle. He got the entire Punch to himself. It only worked once because I raised holy hell, shrieking I was going to take the bottle and lay it across his skull repeatedly. Mama had to intervene and after that, I got first dibs on the drink, Mama drawing a line in the condensed moisture outside to indicate where I was to stop drinking. I have to admit, I pushed it as far as I could.

When I was 17 and became lovers with the woman who was the mother of my daughter, she completely cracked me up by referring to cokes as pop. I thought that was an old-timey Western term, kinda like sarsparilla. She had been raised in Michigan, and took exception to my laughter, informing that coke was a brand name but of course hicks didn't know the difference. Later, when I moved to California in my 20s, I had to adjust to everybody calling them sodas -- coke meant one brand only to folks in Cal-i-for-ni-yay.

LolCats Image You Want Friez Wif Dat Thus, when I found the map above, I was gratified to find how the terminology really does have regional genes. I'd love to know the actual origins of why different regions went with different names -- like when I read that the reason New Yorkers say "on line" instead of "in line" is because non-English-speaking immigrants used a different kind of grammar, I think Germanic, which altered the meaning in their original language and it got transferred over to English. Clearly, "in line" is accurate -- you're not ON a line, i.e., standing atop it, you are IN it. And coke is coke, dammit. Unless you want a Co-Cola.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Liza Cowan said...

New Yorker here, standing on line for a soda. Better make it a coke.

Jesse Wendel said...

Fascinating stuff, Maggie.

For me, the generic name for soft drinks is soda.

I've lived in over 80 places throughout the United States and Europe. Dad was a University Professor, working on his Ph.D., which he received from UConn, while we lived in Amherest, MA (and before that in Stores, CN. Then we moved to Tucson, to Graz, Austria, and back to Tucson. And of course, we lived in multiple locations in ALL of these places before settling down.

Plus I lived in Utah and California as a child.

I was in 12 secondary schools by the time I started college at 17.

All of them in the zone shown on the map as using SODA as the generic name for soft drinks.

I only use Coke to call-out the trade-marked product Coke-Cola.

As for on-line v. in-line, it doesn't seem as if you mean computer communications from the context. Are you talking about grammar? For example, "Shelly corrected James' spelling with an in-line copy edit."

I am perplexed.


little gator said...

I always missed the whole thing cause I hate carbonation and alcohol-they both sting my tongue.

A college roommate inssited I should expeience getting drunk. Vodak has no taste, they said. I could taste it, or at leats feel the sting.

So I drank some kind of surgary dirnk full of cream, and barely noticed the alcohol. Barely it if I really wanted to get drunk, I supposed.

MY first and only drunk I got so depressed I knew I'd never do it again. My roomamate was foolish enough to get mad at me for spoiling our fun and said she'd never drink with me again. Which was fine with me.

Abut coke or whatever-here it seems ot be soda or tonic.

Maggie Jochild said...

Jesse, I meant in line as in "Myra stood in line at the movies while Ginny went next door for some chai tea". Except I'm willing to bet Ginny asked her if she would stand ON line while she got tea. (Grin to you, Liza Bean.)

Coke is definitely toxic. When I lived in San Fran, during certain months of the year, fog from the ocean would roll over even Mt. Sutro and Twin Peaks into the upper Mission overnight, and if it had been a hot, still day previously, the fog would be not just rimy from the sea but also mixed with pollution trapped in the city. This would leave a thick, sticky scum on car windshields which had to be cleaned off before you could drive.

Instead of wasting windshield wiper cleaner fluid (it look a LOT to get off this gunk) or gonig back into the house for ammonia in a bucket, when I went out to run my delivery route I'd pour some of the Coke which was my breakfast onto the windshield. Cleaned it instantly. Then a little wiper fluid to spritz away the Coke, and I was off. I also used it to clean my battery posts under the hood. I'm pretty sure Delaware Punch would never manage THAt trick.

little gator said...

Mr Gator's father moved machinery (often to/from factories)for a living. One time he had some Kelloggs Frosted Flake frosting mix drip on his truck. It took the paint off.

and speaking of New Englandspeak: a shake(as in milk and ice cream) is a frappe(silent e) and an urban street corner convenience store is a spa.

Those long sammiches which are usually called subs? here they are also grinders. If made with shaved steak they are steak bombs as well.

little gator said...

oddly enough, places that sell grinders and use the word on their menus? They're still sub shops. Sub shops and pizza shops nearly always(especially if they're not part of a chain) sell pizza, subs, pasta dinners in red sauce, and often fried seafood dinners. Many also sell baklava. Dunno why, but a large number of local pizza shops are run by Greeks, who had enough sense to add baklava to their menus.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

In Michigan we say "pop." When I lived in Colorado I ordered a "pop" at some place. When they asked me what kind of "soda" I wanted I replied, "the kind of pop I would like is..." It was so interesting because I was not going to change asking for a pop even when I lived in the West.

This is really a cool map and a funky post! =)