You know that genre of drinks of which Coke, 7-Up, root beers, Dr Pepper and grape Nehi are part? What do you call them? If you answered, "pop" or "soda" you’re not wrong, but you are (a.) clearly not from here, or (b.) from here but you went away for too long.

A series on The History Channel, "How the States Got Their Shape," recently raised the question. On one of the episodes the topic was linguistics and how word usage varies from place to place. An example was the drinks. According to the program, the nation is divided into two, those who say, "pop" and those who say "soda." "But wait a moment," I thought to myself, "down here on the lower Mississippi we say something else." Our word is "soft drink."

I am not sure where that term came from. One thought is that since New Orleans was never shy about boozing maybe the term evolved to separate it from alcoholic "hard liquor." If that were the case, a bourbon and coke would be a hard soft drink.

To complicate matters, there is also a division by race. "Soft drink" is more of a local white peoples’ phrase. Blacks tend to refer to such drinks as "cold drinks." While going to college I had a summer job at a city-run swimming pool where my duties included filling the drink machine. One day one of the lifeguards, who was black, asked me, "are the cold drinks cold?" I told him that they were not, yet we both understood that they were still cold drinks.

Logic seldom seems to follow the word usage. According to the History Channel program there is a smaller subset in the nation that refers to all such drinks as "cokes." A perfectly normal conversation would be:
Q: What type of coke do you want?
A: A 7-Up.

For whatever the linguistic difference are in the land, I say, bless them all. One day all the nuances will be lost because of the mass media and everyone will sound alike and use the same words. Until then, relax. And may all your sodas be soft and cold.

Any comments about this article? Write to For the subject line use NEW ORLEANS JULY 18. All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this newsletter.  Please include your name and location.

Errol’s books are now available at most area book stores and can be ordered via E- mail at or (504) 895-2266.