Saturday, April 11, 2009

Speaking Wisconsin

This is perhaps one of the most hotly contested debates within the American English lexicon:

What do you call a carbonated beverage sweetened with either high fructose corn syrup or an artificial equivalent?

It's even difficult to ask the question without leading. We all have our own biases, and I would normally ask "what do you call soda?" or "what do you call soft drink?" But that's just because I find soft drink to be a pretty culture-neutral term and happen to say soda myself...or pop.

As a Madison-resident who grew up in La Crosse, a town on the far west end of Wisconsin, I have reason to be confused. I grew up using the term 'pop', which predominates on the west side of the state. However, after moving to Madison I realized that there's some disagreement within the state. People I met from the east side of the state, most of whom were from Milwaukee and the surrounding areas, would say soda. Also, people who were from outside the state (mostly from the coasts) tended to say 'soda'. After causing a raucous by merely uttering the word 'pop', I quickly learned to say soda to facilitate unfettered communication.

On the other hand, many people in Madison still say pop. Since many Madisonians are originally from the west side of the state--or from places in Illinois where pop is used--Madison is essentially split between 'soda' and 'pop'.

In order to settle this debate, we launched our new polling feature on the homepage with this question. We ask, "what is this?" alongside a can of Diet Cherry Pepsi, a can of 7up, and a can of Coca-Cola. The answer options are as follows:

  • Soda
  • Pop
  • Coke
  • Tonic
  • Soft Drink

I have my own ideas about which ones will predominate in each region of the US, but it's difficult to know for sure unless people vote. That's why we have our respondents input their zip code. After voting you can generate a state-by-state representation of current votes. We'll take a running tab of all votes. Over time we should have a good representation on this question, as well as other ones we're doing parallel to it.

So, check out the homepage and make your vote count!

Tom from City Dictionary

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