Folk Speech – USA

“I know when I’m at home when I ask for coke and it means any kind of soft drink. It’s like a saying. For example, if you’d have a conversation like,

‘What would you like to drink?’

‘Oh, coke.’

‘Oh what kind of coke?’

It would be totally normal.”

According to Joe, having a “coke” to drink in the South is equal to getting any kind of soft drink. Instead of strictly referring to Pepsi or Coca Cola, “coke” in the South can mean anything from Sprite to Dr. Pepper. Joe said that he learned the multiple meanings of coke growing up in the South. He claimed that everyone from his area understood that “coke” is an umbrella term meant to be inclusive of all soft drinks. It is the accepted term whenever one needs to order or ask for a drink. The majority of residents in the South across all demographics use this term. In fact, asking for a “coke” is actually a more appropriate way of getting the drink of your choice in the South than asking for a fountain drink. Joe said that the term could be used when ordering drinks at restaurants or simply asking a friend for a beverage at their house.

Joe did not think anything of it until he moved out to California for college. He did not even notice that there was a difference in meaning until he went to a restaurant and asked for coke, where the server did not question selection and actually gave him a coke. He said that in the South, few people ever ask for a ‘soft drink’ or a ‘fountain drink.’ “Coke’s” multiple meanings are supposed to be understood by everyone.

The reason behind expanding the meaning of “coke” is probably one with self-serving intentions. Joe said that he believes that it is because Coca-Cola was first sold in Atlanta, Georgia. He attributes the far-reaching spread of this term as a product of common identification of residents living in the South. Thus, the accomplishments of Georgia are the accomplishments of the whole southern region. He feels like “southerners are really into their own stuff,” and therefore pride in celebrating all things related to them.

I think that the term “coke” in this context is probably the result of a successful marketing ploy from the past that has gradually made its way into common lingo as time has passed. Coca-Cola is arguably one of the largest corporations in the world, holding a huge influence over American culture through its advertising strategies. The company is often credited with inventing the modern image of Santa Clause, a portly old grandfather clad in a red suit. Considering their achievements in generating publicity, I would not consider it shocking if it had been their idea to transform the word “coke” into an equivalent of all soft drinks. If southerners really are as proud as Joe claims, it would not be very difficult to convince the general population of the area to adopt the term.

Using “coke” as a reference to all soft drinks has not caught on outside of the “South” probably because of a longer history and familiarity with the company than the rest of the nation. Perhaps by the time that Coca-Cola gained much of its prominence in other areas, rival companies already had competitive shares of the market in the other parts of the United States.