The Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy

David Bowie db.list at PMPKN.NET
Mon May 14 14:27:42 UTC 2007

From:    Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>


> And then there was the time that I asked for "cold soda" in "pop"
> country and was led to the Arm & Hammer display by a confused-looking
> clerk who explained that soda was kept on the open shelves at room
> temperature.

I've got two stories of my own, but admittedly neither of them are as
good as that one.

Story 1:

Background knowledge: No caffeinated beverages are sold on the Brigham
Young University campus,[1] and the school's food service arm has (or at
least had) a contract with Coca-Cola, excluding Pepsi products from
campus. Well, when i first arrived at there for my first job out of grad
school, i went to one of the on-campus fast-food restaurants to eat
lunch. It was one of those places where you get your food and an empty
cup, and then you fill the cup with the beverage of your choice--so i
ordered "a burger and a large coke". The cashier droid got a very
confused look on her face, and said "We don't serve Coke here." Of
course, i meant coke as a generic, but she didn't recognize that. The
thing i find really interesting is that her statement was untrue on the
face of it, since they had caffeine-free Coke, unless for her "coke"
must have meant the full-octane stuff.

Story 2, which is better:

I spent one year of my undergrad education in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
One night, about 1 or 2 in the morning, i was walking along Forbes
Avenue with some other students, one of whom was from the Pittsburgh
suburbs, one from New Hampshire (though he claimed Japan), and one from
South Korea (though he claimed Chicago). (I'm from Southern Maryland,
FWIW--the northern edge of generic coke.) Anyway, the New Hampshire one
was thirsty and wanted some sort of non-alcoholic carbonated sweetened
beverage,[2] and so we started searching for a 24-hour Quickie-Mart place.

We didn't find one.

So we're walking along, going down side streets from Forbes Ave, looking
for somewhere he can buy something to drink, when we see an old guy
walking along the other side of the street. "Hey!" calls Mike, the
thirsty New Hampshirean (yeah, i know, i know, Nutmegger). "You know
where i can buy a soda?"

"What's that?" calls back the guy.

"Where can i find a soda?"

"What's that? Soda Street? I ain't never heard of a Soda Street around

"No, I'm looking for a soda--where can I buy a soda?"

"No, nothing like that around here," calls back the guy.

At this point, apparently, Eric, the local, realizes what's going on,
and he cuts in. "He wants to know where he can find a pop."

"Oh! A pop!" says the guy. "Sure--there's a place just around the
corner, that way. You can't see it from here, but it's open all night."

So Mike got his coke, and i got my first really memorable lesson in
dialect differentiation.

[1] No, not due to restrictions of the sponsoring religious body,
contrary to popular explanation. That church *does* forbid consumption
of coffee and tea to its membership, but caffeine is unregulated--but
the administration of the university apparently decided better safe than
sorry, or somesuch.

[2] When i tell students about dialect differences, i usually intro it
with the pop v. soda thing. Sometimes i draw a laugh with a line like
"Some people say pop, some people say soda, some people use soda pop,
others use coke as a generic for all kinds of carbonated sweetened
beverages. 'Carbonated sweetened beverages', by the way, is apparently
the dialect form used by linguists." It's a really lame joke, but it
seems to work.

David Bowie                               University of Central Florida
     Jeanne's Two Laws of Chocolate: If there is no chocolate in the
     house, there is too little; some must be purchased. If there is
     chocolate in the house, there is too much; it must be consumed.

The American Dialect Society -

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