Do New Englanders Still Use This Word for Soda?
Recently, Michael Rock told us about some SouthCoast words and phrases that might not translate well to people not from around here.
Words aren’t just regional, though. They’re also generational. There are some words our parents or grandparents used that have just fallen out of favor over the years, and to me, none stands out more than “tonic.”
My parents both came from Randolph, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Apparently, it’s a very Boston-area thing to refer to soda as “tonic.” I remember my mother’s parents referring to all soda as “tonic” growing up but having no idea exactly why they would call it that.
In the Midwest, they call it a “pop.” In the South, they call it a “coke” – even if you’re drinking a Pepsi. Generally, everywhere else it’s a “soda” or a “soft drink.”
So where did “tonic” come from? Nobody’s exactly sure, but one belief is that it was because back in the 1800s, when Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other soft drinks hit the shelves, they were marketed as having medicinal properties.
That made them akin to a “tonic” that may be concocted to help with digestion or to increase vigor – both claims that soft drink companies often made about their products.
Does anyone still refer to soda as “tonic?” I haven’t heard the term used in decades – unless, of course, ordering a gin and tonic, which features straight soda water or seltzer – and I don’t think it’ll ever make a comeback.
I also remember how to them, there was no such thing as lunch. You had "dinner" in the afternoon, and ate "supper" later on in the evening.
I get nostalgic thinking of my grandparents and their terminology, and wish I could still be at their house, going “down cellar” (the basement) in my new “dungarees” (jeans), grabbing a “tonic” out of the “ice box” (refrigerator) and then sitting out on the “piazza” (front porch).