2011.08.10 Hot enough for a tonic, maybe even for a dope


I recently was involved in one of those conversations where people with nothing better to do argue whether a carbonated soft drink should be called “pop” or “soda.” I finally had the motivation to open a new dictionary I recently purchased and found the answer, and a lot more.

My new reference volume is the latest edition of the American Heritage College Dictionary. I bought my first one back in college, after my freshman English professor gave it a ringing endorsement. If he’s still with us, I’m sure Dr. Hoffman would be proud I continue to heed his advice.

As to the pop vs. soda question, it pretty much comes down to where you were raised. According to the dictionary, the name soda is commonly used in the northeast United States and in the eastern Missouri and southwestern Illinois areas surrounding St. Louis. From the midwest to the west coast, pop is the preferred term. Then it starts to get interesting.

In the South, except for South Carolina, the word “coke” is often used, even if you’re planning to buy a Pepsi. Other terms used in the South are “cold drink” or simply “drink”. Then, I guess, you have to explain what brand of coke or cold drink you want.

In the area surrounding Boston and in western Maryland, “tonic” is the preferred term. And in South Carolina, you say the word “dope” when you mean a cola-flavored soft drink. They must prefer non-colas down there because I sure wouldn’t want to order a large dope.

The more I leafed through my new dictionary, the more odd little items I came across. For example, In Pennsylvania, the word “smearcase” is often used to describe what we in this area call cottage cheese, and “gum band” is used instead of rubber band, making it possible to use gum bands to secure the lid to the smearcase.

Then there’s “olicook,” which to folks in New York’s Hudson Valley is the little delight we call a doughnut. Woodchuck is pretty much interchangeable with groundhog, except in the Appalachian Mountains, where the rodent is also known as a whistle pig.

Depending on where you live, a stream might be called a creek, a crick, a kill, a brook, a branch or a run. Take your pick.

It annoys me when I see “mic” used as a short form for microphone instead of the term “mike” I grew up with. I was glad to see the dictionary still lists “mike” first, although the dreaded “mic” is also included.

There’s quite a debate over whether the term “compact disc” is correct, or whether it should be “compact disk”. Disk was originally the preferred term in America, with disc used in Great Britain. After the development of the phonograph record in the late 1800s, disc became the popular spelling on both sides of the ocean.

With the advent of computer storage devices, disk was used by those in the computer industry, but when the CD was developed for use by the music industry, the familiar disc spelling was kept. Today, whether the product is used mainly for entertainment or serious computing decides the spelling.

Speaking of discs, I got a kick out of looking up some famous names in the music industry. For instance, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley all get a separate listing, but Little Richard, Bill Haley and Carl Perkins are out of luck. Then there’s the case of The Beatles.

Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney are defined as British musicians and composers who, with the help of the other, wrote many of the Beatles songs. Even Ringo Starr makes the book, simply described as “British musician who was the drummer for The Beatles.” 

George Harrison, however, is called a “British singer and songwriter whose best-known compositions include ‘My Sweet Lord.’” I could have sworn he used to be in a group, but the name escapes me... Seriously, the dictionary makes it sound like he was never in The Beatles, the same treatment they give former drummer Pete Best, not to mention former bass player Stuart Sutcliffe, by ignoring them completely.

Johnny Carson gets a tiny mention in the book while Letterman, Leno, Tom Snyder and the rest of the talk show genre are ignored, except for one big, Oprah-sized shoutout, including photo, to Oprah Winfrey herself. I’d bet that was enough to make the dictionary one of her favorite things. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she celebrated with a dozen olicooks. And maybe a dope or two.