From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
1874 cartoon of a farmer bartering chickens in exchange for a subscription to the "Podunk Weekly Bugle"

The terms podunk and Podunk Hollow in American English denote or describe an insignificant, out-of-the-way, or even completely fictitious town.[1] These terms are often used in the upper case as a placeholder name, to indicate "insignificance" and "lack of importance".[2]


The word podunk is of Algonquian origin. It denoted both the Podunk people and marshy locations, particularly the people's winter village site on the border of present-day East Hartford and South Windsor, Connecticut.[1][2][3] Podunk was first defined in an American national dictionary in 1934, as an imaginary small town considered 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 description said:

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. These represented "Podunk" as a real place but one insignificant and out of the way.[7] The term gained currency as standing for a fictional place. For instance, in 1869, Mark Twain wrote the article "Mr. Beecher and the Clergy," defending his friend 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.

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, New York

See also[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. politician of podunk.
  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. ^ Marteka, Peter (April 30, 2010). "South Windsor Creates 2.5-Mile Trail System Through Wapping Park". Hartford Courant.
  9. ^ "Podunk Guard Station". Dixie National Forest.
  10. ^ "Podonque Cemetery – Town of Rushford, Allegany County, NY". Allegany County Cemetery List. Allegany County Historical Society. Retrieved 2012-03-25.
  11. ^ "Podunk Pond Fishing near Dixfield, Maine". Retrieved 2020-02-03.
  12. ^ "Local Matters". Door County Advocate. February 9, 1871. p. 3.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]