Growing up in the mountains of West Virginia, there was never any doubt what the name of that bubbly drink that stood proudly in our refrigerator was — it was “pop”.
On many occasions, my father would summon me on a hot afternoon to go inside and get him a “pop” and on pizza day at school, our entire class would enjoy unlimited cans of it… cans that also had our state’s outline imprinted onto the top!
It was not until I reached the ripe age of eighteen and somehow managed to stumble inside a South Carolina college classroom that I discovered the hard way that saying “pop” in the Deep South would expose one to laughter, ridicule and unending teasing.
“Well what do you call it?” I asked inquisitively, unaware that there was any other name would could use to describe carbonated beverages.
“Coke!” One of my Alabama friends screamed, chuckling all the while.
“But it’s a Mountain Dew,” I responded.
“That doesn’t matter, it’s coke… and if you don’t want to say coke, then call it a soda!”
That day, I had the pleasure of learning an important life lesson. America’s geography does not just divide us politically, but also plays an important role in the actual words we use on a daily basis. Esteemed map maker Alan McConchie has placed together a map detailing where each word is used most and his map has helped explain why we say what we do!
How did “soda”, “coke” and “pop” all become entrenched into the vocabularies of certain regions? The answers are actually fairly simple and fascinating:
The first carbonated beverages in America appeared in New England in 1806, when Yale University chemistry professor Benjamin Silliman sold soda waters in New Haven, Connecticut.
Within a few decades soda waters were being sold throughout the Northeast and by the 1830s soda fountains were appearing in New York, Philadelphia and California.
These drinks were known simply as sodas and as carbonated beverages became increasingly popular in the century to come, the name stuck.
Confederate Colonel John Pemberton, who was wounded in the American Civil War and became addicted to morphine, began a quest to find a substitute for the problematic drug. The prototype for what is now Coca-Cola was formulated at Pemberton’s Eagle Drug and Chemical House, in Columbus, Georgia.
In the years ahead, Pemberton would market his drink as a French Wine Coca nerve tonic; however, in 1886, Atlanta and Fulton County passed prohibition legislation, to which Pemberton responded by developing a non-alcoholic version Coca-Cola.
The first sales were at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886. It was initially sold as a patent medicine for five cents a glass at soda fountains, but the taste soon became a crave throughout the Southland and from that moment forward Coca-Cola was the standard for carbonation in Dixie. Thus, all carbonated drinks are a “coke”.
While the West Coast and North East were graced with soda fountains and the South enjoyed “Coke”, a forgotten swath of America stretching from Alaska and Washington State to West Virginia were left behind, with few fountain drinks and even fewer Coca-Cola distributors.
By the time carbonated beverages made it inside the coal mines of Eastern Kentucky, the corn fields of Ohio or the badlands of South Dakota, they were in cans. Cans that would make a distinct popping sound when opened. Hence, these drinks would forever be known as “pop”
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