I hate to break this to all the Midwesterners, Western New Yorkers, or anyone full of folk and kitsch in their hearts: that fizzy, sugary, artificially flavored drink that’s killing us all is called SODA, not pop.
This debate once tortured me as a child. Growing up in Northern Virginia and Southeastern Pennsylvania, I only heard the term “soda.” In my friends’ houses, in restaurants, at sporting events, my beloved Sprites, Sierra Mists, and 7Ups were sodas. But when I visited my family outside of Buffalo, New York, the question from Grampa and all my cousins, aunts, and uncles, was always, “Would you like a pop?”
I discussed the difference in name with my family, who always insisted, “No, it’s pop.” I brought back this unique identifier to my friends at home, like I had traveled to a foreign country and brought back a peculiar affectation or a cultural artifact. I could never convince myself to make the switch to calling it “pop,” because I knew in my heart that “pop” is not the name of the beverage. “Pop” is, at minimum, a charming nickname, like people who use Jack instead of John, or Peggy instead of Margaret, or “Timmy Ho’s” instead of Tim Hortons. But the carbonated, sweetened drink sold in ballparks and stadiums across America, and even peddled by the Osbourne family in the early 2000s, is soda, not “pop.”
I understand the history of the debate. Soda was once marketed as “soda pop,” and one half of the country chose soda, the other pop. But let’s get a few things straight.
“Pop” is a sound. It’s onomatopoeia. (I spelled that right on the first try.) It’s the sound the SODA can makes when you open it, when you hear fireworks going off in the alley behind your apartment, or when you feel your ankle twist and your foot crack. “Soda” is a sweet drink on a hot summer’s day. A treasure earned after at least one glass of milk at the dinner table. A mixer for Banker’s Club vodka in the basement of a kid in your grade who you aren’t really friends with.
Look to pop culture. (or should I say, soda culture). The greatest comedic voices of our time, Kenan and Kel, loved orange soda across various Nickelodeon media. Not orange pop.
Look to bar culture. Who asks for a “vodka pop on the rocks?” No one. Because that drink doesn’t exist. Nor does a “vodka Diet Coke,” Taylor Swift, but that’s a fight for another time. It’s a vodka soda, a whisky soda, a club soda, for all the designated drivers out there.
When a flavored soft drink is taxed, it is referred to as a soda tax. No one calls it a pop tax because that sounds absolutely ridiculous. (*A “sugary drink tax” has also been used to describe this tax. I’ll allow it, since the term “sugary drink” describes soda.)
I am all for regional differences. I celebrate the diversity of American culture. I love a good hard “r,” or even a lack thereof. In the battle of Chicago v. New York style pizza, I am indifferent. We are all winners in the Great Pizza War because both types of pizza exist, period. I don’t really like the fact that people from Rhode Island call water fountains “bubblers,” but I’m willing to let it slide, so long as they call traffic circles by their proper names. But I cannot remain silent on Soda v. Pop, since one is clearly a type of beverage and the other is a style of music made popular by Hugh Grant’s band in the movie “Music and Lyrics.”
Thinking logically, imagine of all the things asking for a “soda” could imply:
Now contrast all the things asking for a “pop” could mean:
The difference is staggering. If I were president in 2016, I would use my first executive order to end this debate once and for all. It’s soda, not pop.
And it’s also not a “Coke.” A Coke is a type of soda, much like how a Kleenex is a brand of tissue, a Band-Aid is an type of adhesive bandage, and a Tylenol is a fancy name for an acetaminophen pain reliever-fever reducer.
Also not up for debate: the best type of soda is orange Fanta. Next is Diet Cranberry Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and third place is tied between San Pellegrino and Vanilla Diet Coke. Oh, and a sandwich with deli meat on a soft, white Italian roll is a hoagie, not a sub.
In summation: POP IS DEAD, LONG LIVE SODA. (But you probably shouldn’t drink it, no matter what you call it.)