New Hampshire Slanguage: Tonic

tonic – [pronounced TAHN-ik] a carbonated soft drink. Use of the word with this meaning appears the greatest in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Outside of these two states, use of the word tonic is rare; outside of New England practically nonexistent. The frequency of use (of this term) was prevalent in the 1950s, and possibly earlier (from personal experience) in New Hampshire, but with time, usage has decreased.

Probably the first carbonated beverage that New England residents became aware of, was “tonic water.”

Tonic water is carbonated water (charged with carbon dioxide) flavored with fruit extracts, sugar and quinine. It is also known as Indian Tonic Water, quinine water, or just Tonic. The flavoring agent quinine is a bitter alkaloid from the bark of the cinchona tree [now created synthetically]. Quinine is used as the base flavor in most bitters, and is also used in the treatment of malaria. Tonic water is especially popular as a mixer, such as with gin to create the gin and tonic cocktail. Tonic water was granted an English patent in 1858, many years in advance of other carbonated beverages that we drink now.

Reportedly Schweppes brought tonic water to the United States in 1953, however I have seen American advertising in the 1940s for this beverage, so it probably occurred earlier.

Tonic was also the name for apothecary preparations, that usually included alcohol, prepared to cure a long list of ailments.  This use of the word may have been the reasoning for the original name of “tonic water,” but is probably not the source of New Hampshire’s word usage. Why the word “tonic” was frequently used in our area, while “Soda” and “Pop” became popular in other locations, is unknown.


P.S.: Tonic water will glow under ultraviolet light, due to the quinine in it.


Pop vs Soda Statistics

The Early Days of Soda Pop

Closures & Bottles

Early Cordials & Tonics (recipes)-

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