Wednesday 22 February 2012

Soda, Sodium and Pop

It's an odd little reverse of the expected that sodium is actually derived from soda, which was a fifteenth century term for a mysterious alkaline substance. Sodium, was not isolated and named until 1807. Soda itself probably comes from the Arabic suwwad, which is the name of a sort of herb.

The chap who invented, or discovered, sodium, was Sir Humphry Davy, who has great literary significance as he was the subject of the first ever Clerihew, an odd sort of four-line poem that has a man's name as a first line.

Sir Humphry Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

He was also the first Englishman to use the word potassium, which is named after potash.

Soda water is first recorded in 1802 as a name for fizzy water with bicarbonate of soda in it. To an Englishman, soda remains just the name for carbonated water, however in America it is a generic name for fizzy drinks. This map shows the Arab word's infiltration of the United States (double click to enlarge):


  1. Suwwad are not any old herbs but Suaeda spp., some of the halophytic plants of the spinach family that are the source of ashes previously much used in the making of soda, soap and glass because of their high content of alkaline sodium salts. If grown on high-potassium soil they will produce potash.

    I would suggest Davy's literary significance was greater because of his introduction of his improved preparation of laughing gas to Samuel Coleridge six months before the writing of Kublai Khan. He also inspired fantastic literature from Robert Southey. I use fantastic in the sense of fantasy, anyone who has tried to read Thalaba the Destroyer, which has three times the volume of footnotes than poetry, has my sympathy.

  2. My Glaswegian friends use the word juice to refer to fizzy drinks. It always makes me smile as juice sounds kinda healthy to me, as if it might not be the sugar laden fabrication it actually is.

    Incidentally they also use the term "wreck the hoose joose" to refer to very strong beer which might cause you to go in the rampage around your own house.

  3. I am in one of the pop/Coke borderlands on that map. I must admit I use both, with the occasional "soft drink" thrown in just to mess with the linguists and geographers who make such maps.

  4. I'm from a pretty solid pop area- the bordering areas are pop as well, but I generally say soda.
    Partly, this is because when I did talk about carbonated beverages, I would use their brand names or go back and forth between "soda" and "pop" until Italian sodas became pretty popular and so now I say soda, because by the time I got to high school and started actually buying sodas, I pretty much exclusively bought this one pomegranate italian soda that was sold at the grocery store next to our school, so there wasn't really much of a way to call it pop anymore.

  5. In Ireland, we use 'minerals' to mean soft drinks - I suppose from 'mineral water'

    1. Thank you! That explains something that had confused me in something I read once - I couldn't make the context agree with "mineral" in any way. Now I know!

  6. My first language map: I didn't know such a thing existed.

    I'm stunned.

  7. I'm pretty sure most or all of Canada says 'pop.' I know I do, and so does everyone I know.

  8. Soda was the term we employed in Washington D.C. in the 50's 60's. The Southern fringe called everthing fizzy, RC cola, shorthand for Royal Crown cola, a mid sized beverage company.
    In D.C. the local soda brand was Rock Creek, named after the National Park in the area. Their brand line included, grape, strawberry, lime etc.
    There is an interesting subject in the names given to Japanese thongs, introduced in The States in the late 50's, they had many names besides flip flops...we called them by their brand name frind grew up in Florida around that period and they wrte known as...Go Aheads.
    Thanks for the great discussions.

  9. In Australia and New Zealand it's soft drink or fizzy drink, if you say coke you mean Coca-Cola or something that can pass as Coca-Cola. Pop is a type of music or art. If someone wants mineral water at a party, say, you might ask "would you like fizzy or not fizzy (or non-fizzy)?", I've heard "carbonated" used, but rarely. Juice is assumed to be still (ie non-fizzy) unless you're told otherwise. Me, I'll pretty much take anything on a 38ÂșC day like today.
    On the other matter, Marcmarc, it's "thongs" in Aust. and "jandals" (the original trade name) in NZ, but "thongs" is gaining ground I feel.

  10. When I was growing up in London, all fizzy drinks were pop. I first encountered the description soda when our wartime ration of lemonade and Tizer was joined by R.White's Cream Soda. When peace came, Woolworth's began selling Pepsi Cola but not Coke. Presumably, the latter was regarded as too dangerous for children. We were told we might become 'high' if we drank too much of the stuff Was there cocaine in the original drink and if so, how much?