Podunk

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For other uses, see Podunk (disambiguation).
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 an insignificant, out-of-the-way, or fictitious town,[1] and is often used in the upper case as a placeholder name in a context of dismissing significance or importance.[2]

Etymology[edit]

The word podunk is of Algonquian origin, and denoted both the Podunk people and marshy locations, particularly their winter village site on the border of East Hartford, Connecticut and South Windsor, Connecticut.[1][2][3] However, Podunk was first defined in an American national dictionary in 1934, as an imaginary small town taken as typical of placid dullness and lack of contact with the progress of the world.[4]

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.[5] 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. 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.[6]

In American discourse, the term podunk came into general colloquial use, through the wide national readership of the “Letters from Podunk” of 1846, in the Daily National Pilot of Buffalo, New York. Here, 'Podunk' was represented as a real place and was subtly and satirically characterized as insignificant and out of the way.[7] The term gained notoriety, as the fictitiousness of the particular podunk became clear to readers. For instance, 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, 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.

In addition, to this fictional podunk, there were also some actual places near podunk. George M. Cohan, who spent his childhood summers with his relatives in Podunk, Massachusetts[8] (now part of East Brookfield).[9] He loved Podunk 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.[10]

Places named Podunk[edit]

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Nick Bacon. "Podunk After Pratt: Place and Placelessness in East Hartford, CT.” In Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities. Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon (eds). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Read, Allen 1939 The Rationale of Podunk. American Speech 14(2): 99-108.
  3. ^ Lacy, John. 1982. “If this is Podunk, it is truly nowhere.”Hartford Courant May 30, pg. E6.
  4. ^ Shea, Jim. 2007. “Proud to be Podunk!” Hartford Courant Jan 22.
  5. ^ Goodrich, Samuel Griswold (1840). Token. Gray And Bowen. p. 109. 
  6. ^ "The Old North State". The New York Times. May 21, 1875. p. 6. 
  7. ^ Read, Allen 1939 The Rationale of Podunk. American Speech 14(2): 99-108.
  8. ^ Kotker, Norman (September 1, 1994). "Just go past Shoddy's, head for the swamp, and you'll find Podunk". Smithsonian. 
  9. ^ Macht, Norman L. "Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball", University of Nebraska Press, 2007, p. 20 ISBN 0803209908
  10. ^ Yankee Magazine excerpts in "The Eugene O'Neill Newsletter", Vol. III, No. 1, May, 1979, accessed March 3, 2013
  11. ^ Marteka, Peter (April 30, 2010). "South Windsor Creates 2.5-Mile Trail System Through Wapping Park". Hartford Courant. 
  12. ^ "Podunk Guard Station". Dixie National Forest. 
  13. ^ "Podonque Cemetery – Town of Rushford, Allegany County, NY". Allegany County Cemetery List. Allegany County Historical Society. Retrieved 2012-03-25. 
  14. ^ "Where the Hell is Poeville?". Poedunk. 
  15. ^ "Local Matters". Door County Advocate. February 9, 1871. p. 3. 

External links[edit]