What is soft about a soft drink? What does soda have to do with sodium?

Some call it soda. Others say soft drink, fizzy drink, soda pop, or just plain-old pop. There is no right word for the sweet carbonated beverage, although it would be wrong not to know the linguistic background behind the bubbles. A much-discussed soda ban in Los Angeles schools has increased our thirst. For knowledge, that is.

The “soft” in soft drinks is an adjective used in relation to a hard drink. The beverage is not soft like a pillow. Rather, it is nonalcoholic, unlike a hard drink, which is a distilled alcoholic beverage.

Bathing in and imbibing natural mineral water were ancient practices. Later, Arabic chemists experimented with soft-drink concoctions that included crushed fruit, herbs, or flowers. Dandelion and burdock — a traditional British soft drink — has been around since at least the 13th century.

The modern-day soft drink, however, didn’t develop until the 18th century, when scientists started synthesizing carbonated water — also known as soda water. The “soda” part of the word is derived from the sodium salts within the water. (The salts reduce the liquid’s acidity.) Another term for soda water is seltzer, named for Selters, a German village known for its hot springs.

As the soft-drink industry grew in the United States, so too did the vocabulary associated with it. Soda was often sold in a part of pharmacies called “soda fountains.” And the employees who worked these fountains were called “soda jerks.” This was not meant as an insult. Soda jerks pulled — or jerked — on the machines to draw out the beverage.

Of course, fizzy drinks come in all shapes and sizes — root beer, lemon-lime, orange, grape … No variety, though, is more archetypal than cola. Cola gets its name from kola, a caffeinated nut native to Africa that traditionally has been chewed to boost energy and suppress hunger pangs.


  1. Mark Lewis -  September 4, 2014 - 9:10 am

    Don’t forget coke. Here is a scene from a Texas diner”

    Server: What would you like to drink?

    Diner: I’ll have a coke.

    Server: What kind?

    Diner: Dr Pepper.


    • I am a Unicorn -  October 25, 2016 - 5:04 pm

      I don’t get it

    • Diehard dew drinker (with sugar) -  November 7, 2016 - 5:47 pm

      Who was Dr.Pepper? Isn’t caffine just as addicting as the cocca was in the original Cocca Cola?

  2. wolf tamer and iron miner -  March 12, 2014 - 3:13 am

    Joke: A mouse fell into a glass of soda. Don’t worry – it was a soft drink! :)

    Sprite & Dr. Pepper are my favorite sodas…

  3. Steven White -  November 20, 2013 - 3:26 pm

    I always wondered about carbonated water. How it was really come about.

  4. Steven White -  November 20, 2013 - 3:24 pm

    Alright, now I know….
    Thanks for the information…

  5. Sharon -  November 20, 2013 - 5:16 am

    I LOVE ur site…I could stay on here all day! For those that have negitive comments GET OFF & GO ELSEWARE….We do’nt care to hear ur useless/waste of time words!!! This site is for people w/brains & not with learning disorders!!!!

    • Instinct -  January 7, 2015 - 1:48 am

      Sharon, I can barely read a single word you wrote. Nothing in your post makes sense. Don’t they have schools where you come from?

      Oh dear. I’m so embarrassed. Sharon, I’m so incredibly sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you: I was just mouthing off, and I apologize. I didn’t realize you had issues, until I read your last words. Learning disorders. Oops. Sorry.

      • Kate -  July 17, 2015 - 7:48 pm

        That’s awfully rude of you.

      • I am a Unicorn -  October 25, 2016 - 5:05 pm


    • piyu -  June 29, 2016 - 8:10 pm

      Sharon its “negative”..

  6. meny gordon -  October 25, 2013 - 12:45 pm

    ageis rocks!!!

  7. emma -  October 25, 2013 - 8:43 am


  8. Josh -  April 30, 2013 - 1:58 am

    I love to drink soda while I repair my computer!

  9. amy -  March 8, 2012 - 7:16 am

    a never knew tht coke was the first drink brough to earth

    • Instinct -  January 7, 2015 - 1:49 am


  10. jellyjam -  February 12, 2012 - 6:50 pm

    Very cool. This website is amazing and has tons of information on anything you could think of. Keep writing Dictionary.com writers!

  11. z -  January 10, 2011 - 5:31 am


  12. angel_of_knowledge -  January 2, 2011 - 11:21 am

    Interesting stuff I was unaware of any of it.

  13. Annoy -  January 2, 2011 - 4:03 am

    We DO NOT live in a free country, if we did then we could buy a coke at school in Los Angeles! So, a kid in Los Angeles can’t buy a soda, coke, pop, soft drink or whatever you wanna call it, at the local convenience store? Just keeping a kids from a coke during school hours really doesn’t do anything. Those things can be bought anywhere other then the LA school system & Lord knows how many cokes are at their home.

  14. Anastacia -  December 30, 2010 - 4:35 am

    Wow – this is an amazing blog, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and the person who researched / wrote it deserves credit. I can’t fathom why someone would label it “boring” or “lame” (unless of course you are an illeterate drone).

  15. Kathy -  December 30, 2010 - 2:16 am

    Interesting – and I’m surprised that I remember the old paper cups (they only stayed in the holders once something was put into them, otherwise they would pop out). I think that the “phosphates”, which were available at a soda fountain down the street may have been named for the phosphoric acid which is still contained in soda pop. Very bad for teeth, too!

  16. Marx Lenn Mendoza -  December 29, 2010 - 7:32 pm

    its true, very fizzy story hehehe

  17. badd0g -  December 29, 2010 - 4:37 pm

    Interesting, but doesn’t cover why those in some parts of the US call it “pop”. Maybe it comes from the sound that the cork/bottle top made when opened… In Australia we call pretty much any carbonated drink (sans alcohol) soft drink.

  18. LenaGrove -  August 7, 2010 - 3:54 pm

    Interesting article. Perhaps it is more interesting that many of the people reading this blog can barely read or write.

    Dr Kevin,
    You story is probably interesting but your writing is so awkward that the meaning is lost. It is odd that you go into detail describing that gravity holds the paper cup in place. This is akin to saying “my cup was held to the the table through the force of gravity.” It is true but completely unnecessary to articulate since gravity is assumed on Earth. Even though you explain the completely obvious, you fail to explain why this drink is called a phosphate or where and when this story happened. Apologies if English is a new language to you.

  19. MadMadameMim -  August 7, 2010 - 9:38 am

    I live near the World of Coke museum, so I went this summer. They have a room where all the Coke products in the world are available for one to try. Not to be dis(respect)ing any other countries, but I think I’ll be staying in America for a while, if only because I like our pop/soda/soft-drinks/carbonated-beverages better than everywhere elses (except there was this really good Asian drink. It was the color of Nickelodian(spelling?) slime, but it tasted yummy.) and (In my humble opinion, Europe’s “Beverly” tastes like I’d imagine carbonated perfume to taste like.) I would like to reiterate that I mean no disrespect and am not meaning to insult anyone with this. I’d rather not be mobbed, and you never know how extremely internet readers will react to a misinterpreted comment…

  20. hksche2000 -  August 7, 2010 - 8:21 am

    A bottle of “Selters” aka “Selter Wasser” was always in our refrigerator where I grew up in Germany, long before I first encountered soda pops and coke. Many people made it themselves from tap water in steel reinforced glass bottles using rechargeable CO2-cartridges. A glass of wine or juice diluted with a “spritzer” of selters is called “Schorle” which you can order in just about any restaurant in G.

  21. Jil K -  August 7, 2010 - 7:41 am

    I really enjoy and appreciate Dictionary.com and it’s features. Hot Word is especially interesting and fun, please keep up the good work! Thanks!

    • Instinct -  January 7, 2015 - 1:53 am

      Then look up “it’s”, and learn when NOT to use it.

  22. Pop_Cola -  July 14, 2010 - 11:40 pm

    Did you know that one country in Asia, the 90% of local production of sugar goes to one major soda producer. Now the country has major issues in the rising cost of sugar and thinking of importing from other countries to be used by local consumers. :(

  23. Luther Matthew Emmons -  July 11, 2010 - 5:58 pm

    Wow, I just learned a new thing today, thanks to Dictionary.com. Keep it coming.

  24. bubba bob -  July 10, 2010 - 2:35 pm

    @fox, Re: soda being called “tonic” Well, perhaps,at that time and place but there is a distinct difference ‘twixt the two. “Tonic Water” contains a dash of quinine, thus engendering the quintessential ‘gin and tonic’ quaffed so copiously by the Brits in India during the Raj. – the quinine supposedly to ward off the effects of malaria. I think I’ve got most of that mostly right and welcome any corections/embellishment(s).

    • Instinct -  January 7, 2015 - 1:54 am

      That sounds about right, but you forgot to mention: Tonic water tastes good.

  25. Holistic Doctor NYC -  July 10, 2010 - 8:02 am

    Regardless of the etymology, they’re bad for you, healthwise.

  26. Geetu -  July 9, 2010 - 9:56 pm

    found it very informative, gud work !!

  27. Yashi Trivedi -  July 9, 2010 - 4:24 am

    In India its called “cold drink ” since a long long time! Interesting article!

  28. Raymund -  July 9, 2010 - 2:59 am

    that is a great information for me. keep it up. Kudos to you and more power.

  29. JP -  July 9, 2010 - 2:31 am

    Great work. Keep doing it. Please ignore the ignorant and their comments.
    There is an Indian expression:
    A dog might bark as much as he wants, the elephant continues to walk on the street (meaning the barking does not affect the elephant).

  30. Smileyface08 -  July 9, 2010 - 1:37 am

    Excellent article. Would just like to add that I am from the South and we call all Cola flavored beverages Coke in my area.

    • a -  September 4, 2014 - 11:24 am

      I was going to post the same thing. We ask if you’d like a coke, and then ask, what kind! :)

    • Instinct -  January 7, 2015 - 1:55 am

      From the South? Tierra Del Fuego, perhaps? Tasmania? Antarctica?

  31. Fred Blog -  July 8, 2010 - 8:35 pm

    @ dum
    what do you mean you couldn’t get any blogs on? you got one on didn’t you

  32. Anyone -  July 8, 2010 - 8:33 pm

    so wot does soda jerk mean then?

  33. Kevin Carney -  July 8, 2010 - 5:38 pm

    Jay… “Arabic chemists”?

    I looked up Arabic on dictionary.com and all definitions pertain to the language. So does the phrase “Arabic chemists” refer to chemists to speak Arabic? Or did you mean Arab or Arabian chemists?

    While I’m at it, can I request a word origin? I’m interested in the origin of the word “loogie” as in “to hock a loogie”. How did mucus become known as “loogie”? I submitted this request to Hot for Words about two years ago, but she has not yet explained the origin of this word.

    Kevin Carney

  34. DrKevin -  July 8, 2010 - 4:42 pm

    Anyone for a chocolate pumpkin phosphate?
    Any flavor combination could be had for 15 cents.
    The salty soda or seltzer was jerked into an paper insert cone that was held by gravity in a stainless steel base after the flavor of your choice
    was put (pumped, spooned, poured, squirted,…)into the bottom of the white insert. Regulars brought their own flavors to be kept behind the counter, but were still charged the full 15 cents. My grandmother had them crush her anise seeds into her maple flavored phosphate. No charge for the mortar and pestle labor.

  35. Mike -  July 8, 2010 - 1:25 pm

    This was fun and informative!

    Is there a way to subscribe to it?

  36. Sandy -  July 8, 2010 - 12:47 pm

    Love the education! Great write-up. Need to caution folks about the acidity levels of soda, though. Acidic beverages are a main cause for degenerative diseases. Why the spikes in cancer, Type II diabetes, sleep disorders, constipation, etc? Check out http://www.impressivewater.com, and watch the videos on the Kangen Water link.

  37. Joanne -  July 8, 2010 - 12:23 pm

    Sodas are also a big concern for their salt (sodium chloride) content. Check the sodium content of any carbonated drink. A few drinks will complete the daily maxium requirements for salt. And salt intake can raise blood pressure.

    • David -  February 21, 2015 - 6:17 pm

      Medical Scientists have discovered the worst soft drink to consume is :
      ……………… Mountain Dew ………………………..

      We all know that soft drinks will gradually suck out the bone marrow in the human being … thus TOO Much drinking of Mountain Dew will expedite the rapid loss of bone marrow !!! …

      Thank You for Reading this …

  38. Bull -  July 8, 2010 - 12:19 pm

    Nice job. A lesson in history is good for everyone

  39. Steph -  July 8, 2010 - 12:11 pm

    Great fun information for both adults and kids. It stretches our learning and makes it fun. Thinking of using it as a great way to get the attention of a group of kids gathered together before after school tutoring.

  40. torresongs -  July 8, 2010 - 10:41 am

    Note that the people who are criticizing the article use atrocious spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Stop being so cynical and pay attention kids! You need this site more than you think!

  41. JanetE -  July 8, 2010 - 10:39 am

    Yes, I remember people calling it “tonic” in Boston. Now I’m in Pittsburgh and they call it “pop”. Any way you say it, it’s generally not very good for you pre-made. We just ad some soda water to whatever juice we have and make our own. And we call it “soda”.

  42. old bag -  July 8, 2010 - 10:37 am

    We can also add osteoporosis for the negatives of soda. Osteoporosis used to be called “soft bones” though it’s more accurate description is brittle, thin bones.

  43. fox -  July 8, 2010 - 10:19 am

    When I was a kid growing up in the Boston area during the 50′s and 60′s we called it “tonic”. You don’t hear this term anymore. It’s mostly “soda” now.

  44. JanetJ2010 -  July 8, 2010 - 9:32 am

    Dandelion and burdock in seltzer water as a traditional beverage–interesting.

  45. Ranurgis -  July 8, 2010 - 9:12 am

    Kudos to you. I’m really enjoying the information that you feature as Hot Words. Though being older, I knew most of this, yet even I learned something new today. I haven’t kept up daily with the “hots” but have kept the e-mails and hope to go back for the ones I missed.

    This is a lot of fun, and an easy way to impart knowledge. I feel a day is wasted unless I learn a new tidbit.

    Too bad there are always such negative people around.

  46. Ms. Jamie -  July 8, 2010 - 8:36 am

    Nicely written piece. Ignore the misspelled rants from the person who has nothing better to do than post negative comments.

    @K Pfeiffer – The use of “archetypal” in this post could be translated as “thought of first”. Colas do make up the majority of soft drink sales, and if someone asks you if you’d like a soda/soft drink/pop, you most likely think of a Coke or a Pepsi.

  47. Zoasterboy -  July 8, 2010 - 8:31 am

    Alright maybe not half, but a few. Anyways keep up the informative article writing.

  48. Zoasterboy -  July 8, 2010 - 8:29 am

    I enjoyed this article, seems half the responses are incoherent, sadly.

  49. Laura -  July 8, 2010 - 7:39 am

    Interesting to know about the origin of Seltzer going back to Germany… liked the info shared. Thanks!

  50. therracat -  July 8, 2010 - 7:38 am

    I knew some of this…other parts I had no idea! Interesting!

  51. braithwaite -  July 8, 2010 - 6:41 am

    Hmmm. Caffeine is a diuretic and sodium makes you thirsty. Just add a sweetener to mask the salt and you have the perfect beverage to maximize sales–a thirst-quenching beverage that makes you thirstier.

  52. SODA | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  July 8, 2010 - 6:35 am

    [...] CONGERIES — SIBYLINE — “PENNY IT FORWARD” — We no longer do any SODA or watch too much of Yoda though we played when we were young. — We keep our eye on any [...]

  53. Jarred Spengler -  July 8, 2010 - 6:14 am

    Wow. I absolutely love reading this blog. Whoever is working on it, please ,keep up the good work. Seeing how I’m currently eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, is there any way you could perhaps write a blog-post on the humble pb&j and it’s history?

  54. Ed Alley -  July 8, 2010 - 5:20 am

    very refreshing!

  55. K Pfeiffer -  July 8, 2010 - 4:50 am

    Hmmm, a bit broad, the topic, for such a short article, don’t you think? And what makes cola the archetypal soft drink? What about ginger ale? Root beer? The lime soda?

  56. dum -  July 8, 2010 - 2:56 am

    dum website blog doesn’t work good… can’t get any blogs on

  57. Soda Jerk -  July 8, 2010 - 2:25 am

    Fizzy story!

  58. Ho hum -  July 8, 2010 - 2:22 am

    does anyone else rekon this is borring? like, what jerk writ this? totaly uncalled for…

  59. what a dum bog -  July 8, 2010 - 2:05 am

    this story is not the ‘fizzziest in the fridge’ as the saying goes. in fact it is quite ‘soft’

  60. vanessa -  July 8, 2010 - 12:59 am

    omg i never knew these things keep it up really interesting

    • Diehard dew drinker (with sugar) -  November 7, 2016 - 5:33 pm

      My mother used to say it was called sasparilla when she was little (the 1930′s) .When Moutain Dew first came out it had the pulp from the lime still in it,and you would have to tip it upside down to mix it,it was the best!


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