Sunday, May 30, 2004

When I saw this, I yelled out, "Alex, come here!" She came running, but was a little PO'd when she saw what I had to show her. "So???"

Look, it's definitely the most interesting thing that's happened to me so far today. Here am I on a Sunday afternoon, reclining on my sofa, listening to Belle & Sebastian's "If You're Feeling Sinister," drinking tea, and perusing* the introductory chapter to a paperback copy of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. (The intro said the title signifies nothing, although I happen to know it's from the Book of Proverbs.)

I paused to see what Kevin Drum is up to, the guy who writes the Washington Monthly blog. And what should I find but this color-coded map of the United States, charting county-by-county what word is commonly used to describe sweet fizzy liquid in a can: "Pop," "soda," or "coke."

A few things pop out at me:

1. Lake of the Woods, Minnesota: the northernmost point in the contiguous 48 states and that bright green spot up at the top center. From the look of things, people up there have their special word for the stuff that's neither "pop" nor "soda" nor or "coke." But check it out. How many people did they talk to in that county? Precisely three, in fact. Data points, my friend, it's all about data points.

2. More concerning: In eastern Missouri and southwest Illinois, in the counties surrounding the greater St. Louis metropolitain area, there's a solid island of "soda" users wedged firmly betwixt hard-core "coke" country (the former Confederacy) and the great wide Land o' Pop. Why?

3. I can only second what this person said about Alaska: "What a hodge podge. How does anyone communicate up there if they can't agree standard words for everyday items?"

4. Green Bay, Milwaukee and environs. Again, an island of soda. In several counties it's over 80% soda. This is not an urban/rural issue, because Chicago itself is solid pop. Anybody?

5. "Tonic." When I was growing up in the suburbs of Boston, I swear to god I had some friends who said "tonic." Of course they were Irish Catholics (or as my bigoted great-grandmother would have said, "Romans"). This commenter notes: "Tonic is only used by the elderly in New England now, and in some 'hahdcohr' accented regions like East Boston. Cream soda would be tonic too, but no one I know would drink the foul stuff. A real New Englander would knock down a Moxie or a Mad River." Alas, I haven't the foggiest what he/she is talking about, but maybe my dad does.

A large number of this blog's readers -- or more accurately, a large percentage of the readers (data points, my friend...) -- are American expatriates like me, which gives us a unique vantage point from which to analyze this phenom. Moreover, I have two local blogging friends who, owing to their respective backgrounds, are surely poised to shed some light on #2 and #4. I beg you.

* The word "peruse" has always confused me. "To read over in an attentive or leisurely manner." Well, which is it? Attentive, or leisurely? Oddly enough, that pretty much describes exactly what I was doing before I got sidetracked by the map.

Now I'm going to get my loafing ass over to Tulip's Sunday BBQ.


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