Times Writers Group — Pop? Soda? My rooooots are showing

(Originally published in the St. Cloud Times, Feb. 17, 2005)

By Wasim Ahmad
St. Cloud Times

Editor’s note: Today we introduce Wasim Ahmad, the newest member of the Times Writers Group.

I’m not from around here.

When I ordered my first carbonated drink with my dinner at a restaurant in town, I asked for soda, only to discover that it’s called pop here.

Balloons pop. I can pop the clutch on my car. Music can pop in a figurative sense. My dad is pop. But soda? It’s just soda. The word “pop” already has so many meanings, I’m hard-pressed to add another. At least it’s not as redundant as soda pop.

Even in casual conversation, I noticed subtle differences. I had trouble figuring out that people weren’t having “rough” days. They weren’t in a “rut.” They were talking about their “roof.” They were asking me about my “roots.” I must have sounded silly with my extended “oo” sounds.

After a half-year here, I still have trouble distinguishing the words. I stick out like a sore thumb when I speak with my New York twist on the language.

There are a lot of language-related idiosyncrasies I’ve had to learn since moving across the country, but one thing I can’t figure out is what to call sandwiches on long rolls. New Yorkers always called them heroes, though I can’t see what was particularly heroic about them, aside from their ability to fight off hunger.

Subs, I think, seem to the most universally accepted term, but a trip to the supermarket turned up “poor boy” rolls, a variation of the southern term “po-boy.”

To add to the confusion, another restaurant in town calls them hoagies. Minnesotans, it seems, are sure about what to call their soda but not their sandwiches.

Thankfully though, I haven’t heard the word (and I use the term loosely) y’all yet. I went into the deep south once, and the word didn’t leave my vocabulary for a solid month, something that drove the New Yorkers I lived around mad, or at least provided them with good joke fodder.

I noticed that “yeah, you betcha” was a common phrase among the people I’ve talked to in Minnesota. At first, I took this to mean a resounding yes, an excited affirmative. After getting it everywhere, though, I realized it simply was a plain-jane, every day yes, perhaps extended to emphasize the point, or at least said to make sure that it’s heard.

At the Times, I completely missed the meaning of the column at the side of our very own Life cover every day. I tried to wrap my brain around the word “HotDish.” Perhaps it meant that we were “dishing out” the “hot” entertainment news. It was only after I read Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon Days” that I learned that a hotdish is a casserole. I’m not sure if that left me more or less puzzled.

While I’m stumped by the language in Minnesota sometimes, there’s a lot of endearing things about St. Cloud and the Midwest. People born and raised in New York have this conception of the entire Midwest as one big black hole. I lived with people from Eden Prairie in college, and I’d often joke about how Minnesota was “not a real state.”

While I’ll always miss the New York City skyline, temperatures above freezing and Indian food, I’m open-minded. I’ve explored Duluth, the Twin Cities and many places in between and I’m prepared to call my friends in Eden Prairie and apologize.

St. Cloud defeated my impression that the Midwest was a vortex of cornfields in the middle of the country. Granted, there are cornfields 15 minutes in any direction (2 hours if it’s during rush-hour traffic), but there’s a thriving community of people just like any bustling small-to-medium-sized town in my old stomping grounds of upstate New York. Superman even stands guard over the town at his post near the Dairy Queen on occasion. How many cities can boast that?

For all of my assimilation into the Minnesotan culture, I still stress my oo’s in roof and root. I have to get used to saying “the cities” instead of “the city.” I don’t call it a hotdish, though admittedly I never used the word casserole much to begin with.

But I’ll never call it pop.

Wasim Ahmad is a copy editor at the St. Cloud Times. His column is published the third Thursday of the month. E-mail him at wahmad@stcloudtimes.com.

© 2005 St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud, Minn.