There are a couple theories, both somewhat intertwined, on the origins of "Podunk" meaning an insignificant, backwater town. In Algonquian "podunk" or "pautunke" means literally "where you sink in mire" and was given to various areas along rivers. This explains why there are a number of small towns in the North East all called "Podunk".
"Say there nice Indian fellow who we're about to nearly exterminate when we invent the Winchester rifle and smallpox infected blankets, would you be a good chap and tell me what this place is?"
"Thanks! I hereby declare this to be the town
These are the literal Podunk towns of the
There used to be a Podunk,
Since building your town in the middle of a swamp basically ensures limited growth because people simply don't want to emigrate to a swamp (unless you can offer them jobs in advertising), it's no wonder "Podunk" has long been associated with insignificance, isolation, an inability to keep up with the times, and a citizenry not overly blessed by shrewd judgment (i.e., "Dudes, don't live in a marsh!").
The first known use of podunk to refer to a backwater town
was a letter to the editor of the Buffalo Daily National Pilot. In
1846, a letter writer spoke of a mythical, isolated town called Podunk that
was "a little world of itself." This actually started the notion in
the popular press that there existed no such town called Podunk in the
The Herald mounted an expedition to find this mythical
Podunk. Found it, they did. The first found Podunk was an unincorporated
community 15 miles west of
It's interesting to note that the first recorded encounter
between Europeans and Indians was with a subset of the Algonquins called the
Podunk tribe. In the early 1600s, Dutch navigator Adrian Block piloted the
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Copyright 2003 Karl Mamer
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