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Carbonated water doesn't seem to be as popular in the US as in Europe as far as I know (correct me if I am wrong) but I suppose some people in the US drink it.

What is the most common American term for "carbonated water"? I've run across the following: "two cents plain," "club soda," and "Seltzer water." I also heard that the British term "sparkling" has gained popularity.

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Gas or no gas water? –  Josh61 May 3 '14 at 12:25
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@Josh61 - not in American English –  Mitch May 3 '14 at 16:12
    
We call it "sparkling water." In American English. In restaurants. –  ewormuth Aug 18 at 2:16

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As far as I know, it varies from region to region within the US. Personally, as a resident of the northeast US, here are the terms I would recognize:

  • seltzer is what I would normally call it, because when this is sold in stores (in my region), it's often labeled simply "seltzer". A Google image search for the term will turn up several examples (1, 2) of packaging displaying this label.
  • sparkling water is used as a classy alternative to "seltzer", for example in fancy restaurants or by brands which want to give themselves a more refined image. Other answers/comments indicate that this is sometimes used for flavored water with carbonation, but I'm not personally familiar with that usage.
  • club soda is another somewhat classy alternative, although not one that I hear very much. I believe it's the default in other parts of the US.
  • seltzer water is recognizable but I would only expect to hear this from someone who isn't familiar with the word "seltzer" on its own.
  • carbonated water is what I would use when talking to someone who is from a different region or different country if they don't recognize "seltzer".
  • fizzy water is one I never hear used, but I would know what it meant.

I wouldn't recognize two cents plain or just sparkling. The former is an antiquated term according to Wikipedia. Also soda water is not something I hear very much and I'd probably figure it out after a few seconds of being confused.

I think most people are aware that the preferred term for plain carbonated water, as well as the meaning of several of these terms, varies from region to region, and so people are unlikely to find it strange if you use a term that is not the default in whatever region you're in. Technically there seems to be a difference between some of the various terms (e.g. source) but a lot of people are probably not familiar with those differences.

The variation in usage makes it difficult to find data on the relative frequency of using any of these words to mean one specific thing. For example Google Ngram may not be reliable because different people can mean different things when they say e.g. "sparkling water".

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I would add "soda water", and a few locales at one time used "phosphate". –  Hot Licks Jun 10 at 1:37

Looking at Ngram, soda and sparkling water appear to be the most common expressions in American English, with sparkling gaining momentum versus soda. Ngram

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+1 for sparkling water. The alternatives I am usually offered in better restaurants in the Northeast and in Southern California are sparkling or still or tap or mineral water? I can't recall ever being offered soda water/club soda as an alternative, though of course it is something I've been able to order if there is a bar. –  choster May 3 '14 at 15:05
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"Soda" usually implies flavored. "Soda water" is more likely to mean water with nothing but carbonation. "Sparkling water" will be understood, but seems to be more a marketing term than in general use. An old slang term, now mostly out of use, is "two-cent plain" (with soda being implied); I still occasionally find an ice cream parlor owner with a sense of history who advertises it that way. "Club soda" is still in use but may be becoming less common than in previous generations. –  keshlam May 3 '14 at 18:38
    
In addition, where one brand carries both a carbonated and a non-carbonated offering, the terms "sparkling water" and "still water", respectively, appear to be in vogue. –  Eric Lloyd May 3 '14 at 20:02
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Actually Ngram indicates that just "seltzer" is more popular than any of these, which matches my experience. But I don't think it's reasonable to assume Ngram will accurately represent the frequency of use of these words to refer to carbonated water specifically. I'd say these results may be misleading. –  David Z May 3 '14 at 23:21

Both Club Soda and Seltzer water are used here in the states, just not very often. "Wasser mit gas" will get you a blank stare.

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'"Wasser mit gas" will get you a blank stare' if for nothing more than speaking German to someone who doesn't understand it. But yes, "water with gas" or "gassy water" will probably get you a blank stare too. –  Kevin May 3 '14 at 14:17
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Mineral water, seltzer water, and club soda (or soda water) are not strictly interchangeable, and the kind of restaurant in the U.S. that would give you an option between sparkling and still or mineral and tap should not be sloppy about interchanging them. –  choster May 3 '14 at 15:01

Personally, I would say it depends on the context. If I'm looking for just water and carbonation, I tend to say "Club Soda". If I'm looking for a pre-made, flavored, carbonated water drink (that wouldn't typically be called a soda or pop), I would call it "Sparkling Water".

I feel like Google search results confirm this for me:

Club Soda yields pure soda water

Sparkling Water yields more flavored waters than not

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These are all distinct things. With the common factor being carbonation added to water (with or without some other dissolved substances)

Seltzer Water

Ingredient: Plain water Carbonation: Added carbon dioxide Flavor: Very clean tasting, although this is the most common variety of carbonated water to be "flavored" with other ingredients like citrus Uses: Everyday drinking; cocktails; can be used interchangeably with club soda [still not the same thing]

Club Soda

Ingredients: Plain water and mineral-like ingredients like sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, potassium sulfate, and disodium phosphate Carbonation: Added carbon dioxide Flavor: Slightly more mineral-y tasting than seltzer water, but still a relatively clean taste Uses: Everyday drinking; cocktails; can be used interchangeably with seltzer water

(Sparkling) Mineral Water

Ingredients: Natural spring or well water, sometimes bottled at the source, which contains minerals like salts and sulfur compounds Carbonation: Naturally-occurring carbonation due to gases or carbonated by adding carbon dioxide Flavor: Due to the the minerals and sodium, sparkling mineral water has a heavier mouthfeel and distinct taste that can vary depending on where the water came from Uses: Everyday drinking; not recommended for use in cocktails since it has a distinct flavor and is the most expensive of the carbonated waters

Soda water is just seltzer, but you would typically only refer to it as such when it comes out of a soda fountain. ie at a bar where they have one nozzle on a hose that produces different soft drinks based on the button you press.

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