Podunk

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1874 cartoon of farmer bartering chickens for a subscription to the Podunk Weekly Bugle

In American English, Podunk, podunk, or Podunk Hollow denotes or describes a place of small size or "suburb", and is often used in the upper case as a placeholder name in a context of dismissing significance or importance.

Contents

Etymology

The word, of Algonquian origin, denoted both the Podunk people and marshy locations.

The earliest citation in the Dictionary of American Regional English is from Samuel Griswold Goodrich's 1840 book, "The Politician of Podunk":

Solomon Waxtend was a shoemaker of Podunk, a small village of New York some forty years ago.

The book portrays Waxtend as being drawn by his interest in public affairs into becoming a representative in the General Assembly, finding himself unsuited to the role, and returning to his trade.[1] It is unclear whether the author intended to evoke more than the place near Ulysses, New York by the name "Podunk". Possibly the term was meant to exemplify "plain, honest people", as opposed to more sophisticated people with questionable values.

In 1869, Mark Twain wrote the article "Mr. Beecher and the Clergy" defending a friend, the Rev. Thomas K. Beecher, whose preaching had come under criticism. In it he said:

They even know it in Podunk, wherever that may be. It excited a two-line paragraph there.

At the time he was living in Buffalo, New York, moving to Hartford, Connecticut in 1871, in a home within 4 miles (6.4 km) of the Podunk River). Elmira, where Twain had lived earlier, is within 30 miles (48 km) of Podunk, New York, so it is not clear to which village Twain was referring.

An 1875 documentation of dismissive usage is:

Sometimes the newest State, or the youngest county or town of a State is nicknamed "Old Podunk," or whatever it may be, by its affectionate inhabitants, as though their home was an ancient figure in national history.[2]

The modern usage of the term has been credited to the American entertainer, George M. Cohan. This explanation is is especially credible, because during his youth Cohan spent his summers with his relatives in Podunk, Massachusetts[3] (now part of East Brookfield). He loved Podunk[4] and its "hayseed hicks," and made it famous, describing it in his comedy acts. Other vaudeville entertainers later picked up on Cohan's use of the word Podunk and used it in their acts.[5]

Places named Podunk

Vinton's Pond Dam on the Podunk River

The United States Board on Geographic Names lists places named "Podunk":

Other areas known as Podunk include:

A sign in Holley NY

In fiction

References

External links