October 03, 2011

The (Expanded) Pop vs. Soda Debate

It's a question that will never have any definitive answer, try as we might to analyze it's fullest depths. Of course, we're talking about what one calls a carbonated beverage. Thanks to the earlier work of fellow geographer Alan McConchie, the aptly named "The Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy", there remains a solid baseline for analyzing the spatial variations in what one calls a carbonated beverage -- does one prefer "pop" over "soda"? or does a vaguely specific "coke" suffice to account for all other carbonated drinks?

The map below, created using the survey data Alan collected, breaks down the usage of pop, soda and coke, as well as other generic terms, by county across the United States. Unsurprising to anyone who has ever had an unnecessarily long debate with a friend or acquaintance about whose terminology was more correct, there are very clear regional differences in the words used to describe those oh-so-tasty beverages.

Map of Soft Drinks based on Survey Data from Alan McConchie
While the south prefers "coke", much of the northeast, along with pockets along the west coast, the Missouri-Illinois border and eastern Wisconsin go for "soda", while pretty much everywhere else from western New York to the Pacific Ocean uses "pop". And while there are obviously some very linguistically conflicted places (e.g., Alaska), the map generally conforms to the anecdotal evidence that many, including myself, have gathered over the course of many asinine arguments.

Doing as we like to do, however, we thought we'd complicate the picture a bit. Whereas the data for the above map was pulled from a voluntary survey, we thought we would deploy the collective intelligence of the geoweb, as represented by references to particular keywords in the Google Maps database, to make our own map. In addition to the usual pop, soda and coke, we included references to "soft drink" in the map. Draft versions of this map also included references to "fizzy drink" and "carbonated beverage"; alas, there were so few references to these keywords that there was no point in including them.

Map of Soft Drinks based on References in Google Maps
The most evident thing from looking at the map of Google Maps references is that it does not clearly conform to the survey data shown in the first map above. While references to "coke" are obviously most prevalent in the south, as with the original Pop vs. Soda map, they are prevalent to a much lesser degree. After that, the whole thing starts to unravel a bit.

While there are a significant number of places where references to "soda" are greater, they do not have any clear spatial pattern. This appears to largely be due to the simple dominance of references to "pop" across the country. Although "pop" can clearly have a wider variety of meanings than "soda" or "coke", whether a nickname for a father or grandfather, an onomatopoeia or a verb, among other uses, it's not exactly clear why these would lead to such a larger number of references across the United States.

Although the explanation is probably overdone at this point, the Floatingsheep Collective remains suspicious of nefarious plots to significantly alter the content indexed by Google Maps in a show of digital imperialism. In this case, various tribes from Seattle across the Great Plains to Chicago and through the Rust Belt to Buffalo have banded together in order to achieve some final resolution to the great debate of what one should call a carbonated beverage. Violence is not the answer folks. Let's all just sit back, relax, and have a coke.


  1. Thanks for making this! I tried making the same thing from Twitter data for comparison, which turned out a lot noisier: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walkingsf/6209337794/

  2. While Missouri does touch eight states, there is no Missouri-Indiana border.

  3. @Chris: nice catch! and on a geography blog, no less! Now fixed to say Illinois, as it was originally intended to. Sometimes one's brain temporarily stops functioning, and yet the fingers keep on typing.