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definition - 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.



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 which to 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 origin of the term has also been credited to a former village in East Brookfield, Massachusetts named Podunk after Quaboag Pond, which was once named Podunk Pond.[3]

  Places named Podunk

  Vinton's Pond Dam on the Podunk River

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

Other areas known as Podunk include:

  A sign in Holley NY
  • An alternative spelling; "Podonque" is found as the name of a road leading into a settlement area (intersection of County roads 23 and 243) which is still sparsely populated, believed to having been established in the 1800s as: Podonque, Town of Rushford, New York, Allegany County, NY.[6]
  • Podunk cemetery in Vermont on a private farm of the Newton family.
  • Poeville, Nevada a ghost town nicknamed Poedunk after John Poe founder of the mining camp.[7]
  • An area near the Erie Canal lift bridge in Holley, New York.
  • Podunk, Wisconsin, a now defunct town containing a sizable Bradner, Charnley & Co. logging camp, in Door County, Wisconsin.[8]

  In fiction

  • The loading dock in Steamboat Willie (1928), the first Disney cartoon to feature synchronized sound, is named "Po Dunk Landing".
  • The protagonist in Secret of Evermore lives in a town called "Podunk".
  • In the cancelled translation of Mother for NES the Main character's home is a town called Podunk.


  1. ^ Goodrich, Samuel Griswold (1840). "Token". Gray And Bowen. p. 109. http://books.google.com/books?id=ThcUAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA109-IA2&lpg=PA109-IA2&dq=%22politician+of+podunk%22&source=web&ots=6o1WiqWsA5&sig=OODdWiECEj8TLeV-72hlt5qPFYo. 
  2. ^ "The Old North State". The New York Times. May 21, 1875. p. 6. 
  3. ^ Kotker, Norman (September 1, 1994). "Just go past Shoddy's, head for the swamp, and you'll find Podunk". Smithsonian. 
  4. ^ Marteka, Peter (April 30, 2010). "South Windsor Creates 2.5-Mile Trail System Through Wapping Park". Hartford Courant. http://articles.courant.com/2010-04-30/news/hc-wapping-park-southwindsor-na.artapr30_1_trails-evergreen-natural-world. 
  5. ^ "Podunk Guard Station". Dixie National Forest. http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dixie/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=24956&actid=101. 
  6. ^ "Podonque Cemetery - Town of Rushford, Allegany County, NY". Allegany County Cemetery List. Allegany County Historical Society. http://www.alleganycountynylocalhistory.com/CemeteryPages/Podonque%20Cem-Rushford/PodonqueCem.htm. Retrieved 2012-03-25. 
  7. ^ "Where the Hell is Poeville?". Poedunk. http://poedunk.wordpress.com/where-the-hell-is-poeville/. 
  8. ^ "Local Matters". Door County Advocate. February 9, 1871. p. 3. 

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