Saturday, November 6, 2010

Soda vs. Pop

Do you know that feeling of jealousy when someone else has a great idea you wish you had thought of yourself? This happened to me recently when I stumbled across the brilliant web-based scientific study Pop vs. Soda, an attempt to answer once and for all the geographic breakdown of who uses "pop" and who uses "soda" in the US.

If you're not from the US, this undoubtedly sounds somewhat trivial, but this is a long-lasting debate in the US over a product that, for better or worse, is an everyday part of most Americans' lives.

Growing up in California, solid "soda" country, I thought for a long time that "pop" was only used by the elderly and Minnesotans. Clearly I was wrong: pop is huge. Looking at the responses to the survey, there are also a fair number of indecisive fence-sitters out there that use the redundant term "soda pop" and others that prefer other terms like "soft drink" blurring the boundaries, but the geographic pattern is clear nonetheless.

The fact that "Coke" has become a synonym for soda as a whole (an intriguing instance of synecdoche) in the South is, to me, a surprise. If I ordered a Coke in a Memphis diner and the waitress asked me "What kind?" I'd assume she was asking "Regular or diet?" The idea that "7-Up" or "root beer" would be equally acceptable answers blows my mind.

There are a few as yet unexplained mysteries in the Pop vs. Soda data set:

Mystery #1: The St. Louis soda bubble

Soda is predominant in California, Arizona and the Northeast, with pop and Coke fighting it out in between. One notable exception is a large soda bubble in the middle of the country hovering over St. Louis and surrounding counties, wedged between Coke to the south and pop to the north. What accounts for this?

Mystery #2: Chicago Pop vs. Milwaukee Soda

Less than 100 miles separates downtown Chicago from downtown Milwaukee, and yet one favors pop while the other favors soda.

For a brief moment, I wondered if beer might be explain both of these mysteries somehow, as both St. Louis and Milwaukee are big beer producing cities. Sadly, I can't find any strong reasoning to support that connection (although the German word for soda is, if I'm not mistaken, "soda"), and Golden, Colorado, home of Coors, sits in a decidedly pop-favoring county.

If you haven't taken the survey yet yourself, I'd strongly recommend that you pop go over to Pop vs. Soda now and add to the data set. And if you can burst the bubble on one of these mysteries, feel free to chime in below.


estork said...

Dang it. I was hoping someone could explain the St. Louis bubble. I grew up near Raymond, IL - just over 60 miles from St. Louis, MO and am certain someone would be laughed at for calling it "pop" or "Coke." It is soda. My grandpa called it "sodie" and sometimes "sodie-pop," which I thought was a cute old-timer way of talking. But "pop" on its own is just offensive. I used to think that "pop" was just a Chicagoland thing, but this map just blows my mind. I can't believe how much of a hold "pop" has on so many downstate Illinois counties, let alone nearly half the country!!!

Andy Murdock said...

I haven't crunched the numbers, but I'd wager that pop's geographic range looks more impressive than it really is if you looked at the total numbers. Soda looks small, but it sits on most of the major population centers in the US. Coke is just wrong.