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About Podunk

In American English, Podunk, or Podunk Hollow has come to denote something, usually a place, of small size and is often used in a context of dismissing significance or importance. "A small isolated town, region, or place that is regarded as unimportant." The word Podunk is of Algonquian origin.

PodunkThere appears to be at least five references in the United States to "Podunk":

  1. Podunk, a community in Ulysses in New York.
  2. According to The Straight Dope, Podunk, East Brookfield, Massachusetts is an unincorporated area in East Brookfield in Massachusetts.
  3. A community in the town of Wardsboro, Vermont.
  4. An area around Hartford, Connecticut.
  5. Podunk may also refer to the Podunk (people), an Eastern Woodlands group of Native Americans.

It is said to have been a real place in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Long Island, upstate New York, Michigan, and Nebraska, but only faint traces of it still exist in the twentieth century. One authentic vestige is just to the northeast of Hartford, Connecticut, where the little Podunk River appears on the map to this day. Another is a rural area some dozen miles west of Worcester, Massachusetts, encompassing Quaboag Pond and Quacumquasit Pond, long known to the people in the vicinity as Podunk. And for a few years in the nineteenth century, a town in Nebraska officially bore the name Podunk until the railroad came through and changed it to Brock.

The power of Podunk to stir the American imagination was not the fame of any such place, however, but its very obscurity. The turning point came in 1846, when "R.P.," a columnist for the Buffalo, New York, Daily National Pilot, wrote a series of eight humorous articles titled "Letters from Podunk" about the supremely uneventful life of that mythical small town, "Podunk," which was "a little world of itself...high up on the Big Pigeon." Whether or not R.P. originated the notion of Podunk as the ultimate backwater town, his articles, reprinted in other newspapers, were the means of spreading its fame across the country. The lack of identifiable geographic references in the articles made it possible for Podunk to be used as an epithet for a sleepy small town anywhere.

Podunk was a name known to New Englanders two centuries before the writings of R.P. In the Algonquian language spoken by a tribe of Indians then living in Connecticut, Podunk meant "a neck or corner of land." Hearing the name from those Indians, English speakers applied it to the place where these Indians lived, the river that ran through it, and the tribe itself. The place was small, the river was small, and the tribe was small, making Podunk an apt choice for R.P.'s fictional "little world."

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