STATESIDE STORIES: More American Words!


Coca-Cola got its start at a soda fountain in Atlanta, Georgia in 1887

by Mary Foran

You may have noticed that Americans use words in a decidedly different way than the Brits or Aussies or other English-speakers. American history has put its stamp on the language, and words have been coined into special meanings and slang phrases that are difficult for non-English-speakers to learn and use in context.

One example would be the term “MOXIE” which has come to mean “strength, energy, courage, and mental sharpness” combined, according to a book referred to before called America in so Many Words by David K. Barnhart and Allan A. Metcalf, copyright 1997.

“Moxie”, which is mostly used on the East Coast, was first coined in 1876 as a cure-all medicine invented by Dr. Augustine Thompson of Union, Maine. The concoction claimed to cure “brain and nervous exhaustion, loss of manhood, imbecility and helplessness, giving a durable solid strength, making one eat voraciously, taking away the tired, sleepy, lifeless feeling like magic, removing fatigue from mental and physical overwork at once.” (Paraphrasing mine!)

According to the medicine’s label, Moxie was named after a Lieutenant Moxie, who discovered the active ingredient, which was a “simple sugar-cane-like plant grown near the Equator and farther south.” But some say that is a tall tale. Dr. Thompson could have gotten the name from the moxie-berry, a plant that was used in Maine by Indians, and then by settlers, to make medicinal tea.

In the 1920s, a Boston soft-drink manufacturer took over the Moxie name, applying it to a fizzy drink made with gentian root, perpetuating its vigorous connotations.

So now, if someone says you have moxie, it means that you face the world with bravery and a touch of dash.

Soda fountain at Hess Brothers Department Store in 1913

Soda fountain at Hess Brothers Department Store in 1913

Speaking of cure-alls, the Brits invented the Apothecary and the pharmacy as purveyors of medications, but Americans came up with the 1810 term “drugstore”, instead of the British version, “shop”. They began selling soda water, flavored with ginger and other roots, and drugstores became the social centers of the towns. Coca-cola got its start at a soda fountain in Atlanta, Georgia in 1887.( A soda-fountain was what they called the stools-and-counter set-up in drugstores for dispensing refreshments.)


“The residence of the president of the United States did not start out as the White House. In the early years of its occupancy by the Adamses and the Jeffersons, it was called the President’s House. It took a proclamation by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 to officially designate it the White House…

Legend says it got the name White House when it was rebuilt and painted white after the British burned it in 1814” though facts have it referred to as such at least three years earlier.


The Brits don’t say “cookie”, but the Americans do, thanks to their Dutch heritage. Cookie is a Dutch term meaning “little cake”. It was brought to the New World by the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, a colony which they lost to the English, who renamed it New York in 1674. The Hollanders kept up their practices though, and cookies were a Dutch treat for New Year’s Day, along with pound cake, wine and a drink called cherry bounce (made of cider, whiskey and cherries). Cookies have become a favorite American baked good, and neighbors are known to take cookies to ill neighbors or just as a treat at Christmastime. Cookie competitions are fierce and floury, with lemon bars and that old favorite, chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies, my favorites!


Featured imge: PD
Hess Brothers Soda Fountain, Allenown, PA 1913, unknown photogrpher, PD