Saturday, January 15, 2011

What’s Your Tonic?

Soda, Pop or Tonic. Use of each of these terms in referring to a soft drink can indicate where you reside, or at least where your family roots reside. “Soda” is a term generally used throughout New England, New Jersey and eastern portions of New York and Pennsylvania. Oddly though it’s also used commonly on the other side of the country in California and Arizona as well.  A good portion of the rest of the country calls soft drinks “pop” or "soda pop."  In the South people often use the term "coke" to mean any generic soft drink; a bit puzzling because true Southerners LOVE their Coca-Cola, especially for breakfast.  My favorite soft drink term however is “tonic,” traditionally used in the greater Boston area and other parts of eastern Massachusetts.  But increasingly the term is moving out of common usage, especially among younger folks. It’s rather an old fashion term, dating back to the origins of soft drinks as medicinal elixirs and health tonics, often braced with alcohol or pain killing drugs. Moxie soft drink was originally Moxie Nerve Food and Coca-Cola openly advertised that it cured headaches. The 1906 Food and Drug Act did away with the “tonic” aspect of these beverages and was really the launch for the soft drink industry as we know it today (helped along by Prohibition!).

Of course then there is tonic water, my personal favorite for a soft drink. I consume it pretty much daily. Tonic water contains quinine, giving it medicinal qualities. The British used it to ward off malaria in India and throughout their empire. And you know it works – I’ve been malaria free my entire life!


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Here's the national breakdown for who says what.

Dubbahdee said...

My mother (born 1921) would often refer to soft drinks as "tonic."

She spoke only french until she moved to Northwood NH at about age 8. Apparently nobody in Nwood spoke french, so she quickly left it behind. Presumably, it is during this period that she picked up "tonic" as well as other idiomatic items such as "forenoon" and "colly-wobbles."

She is the only one I ever heard use the term "tonic", although if I had spent more time talking with others of her generation I'm sure I would have heard it from them also.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Dubbahdee - I can't honestly recall if my French Candian relatives in SE Massachusetts used the term "tonic" for soda or not. I'm thinking they did. But when I was a kid that was also the era of "tonic" as a men's hair treatment - and Brylcreem! So I do recall my uncles applying their hair tonic at home and the barber using it on customers at his shop.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"Tawnic" was the preferred term in my neighborhood in Manchester growing up, though "soder" was used as well. From TV, we had some awareness that most of the rest of the country didn't say tonic.

I suspect it was the preponderance of nerve-medicines such as Moxie and Pinkham's in New England, as those were called tonic medicines or tonic.