Soda, Tonic, Pop, and Coke


When I was a kid, that’s what we called soft drinks in my neck of the woods (New England). This may seem like an oddity to people in other parts of the country, because it makes some think of hair tonic or something similar. But I think calling soft drinks “tonic” makes more sense than what they do in the South. Soft drinks there are all called “Coke,” which baffles me. I mean, what do you order if you actually want a Coke?

I remember going on a class trip to New York City in 6th grade (thanks to my sister Toni paying my way) and we were told specifically by our chaperones not to say “tonic” if we wanted a soft drink. We were told to say “pop.” Of course, when you tell wiseass 6th graders not to do something that pretty much guarantees they’ll do it. One of my classmates, Peter, asked a vendor at the Ringling Brothers show for a “tonic.” The guy actually corrected him, saying “you mean pop,” and I remember clearly Peter smiling an evil smile and saying “well, I want a tonic.”

This debate is part of a fascinating series of maps that show what various things are called in various parts of the U.S. Do you eat “subs” or “hoagies?” Is it “law-yer” or “loyer?” “Cole slaw” or just “slaw?” Is it “pe-can” or “pe-kahn?” Are there “rotaries” where you are or “roundabouts?” What do you put on your pancakes, “sear-up” or “sir-up?” And that’s only a small sample of the maps you’ll find (here’s even more). (I’m confused by one of the maps – we have always called drinking fountains “bubblers” here.)

Oddly, I never hear anyone around here say “tonic” anymore. Soda seems to have taken over as the generic term for soft drinks here.

6 thoughts on “Soda, Tonic, Pop, and Coke

    1. Absolutely Ron. And aside from Pepsi, Sprite, Cactus Cooler and too many others to mention, I only consider regular and caffeine-free regular Coke to be ‘the real thing’ or ‘a Coke’. Diet, Zero etc. are not. As far as Coke being used as a generic term for soft drinks bothers me too. It’s different than using ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Scotch tape’ in a generic sense. As far as calling it ‘tonic’ goes, I only hear that when discussing tonic water.

    2. I keep coming across polls that say people in Texas call all carbonated drinks “Coke.” I’ve lived in Texas twice, from 1992-1997 and from 2012 until today. I’ve lived in northern suburbs of Dallas and a city 20 miles south of Fort Worth. I have never met one person who calls soft drinks “Coke.” They all call it “soda,” just like I do.

  1. I grew up 15 miles north of Boston and called it tonic but outside of eastern Massachusetts, ie NH lakes region, southern Maine, people didn’t know what I was asking for. I totally dropped it when I went into the service due to the fact that the only person I knew what it was was from Saugus. Two others from New England didn’t know what it was.

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