The terms podunk or Podunk Hollow in American English denotes or describes an insignificant, out-of-the-way, or fictitious town. It is often used in the upper case as a placeholder name, to indicate insignificance and lack of importance.
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. 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.
- 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. 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.
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. 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
The United States Board on Geographic Names lists places named "Podunk":
- Podunk, Connecticut, an area of the town of Guilford in New Haven County
- Podunk, New York, a hamlet in the town of Ulysses in Tompkins County
- Podunk, Vermont, an area of the town of Wardsboro in Windham County
- Three places, over 100 miles (160 km) apart, in Michigan:
- Podunk, Michigan, the south eastern portion of the Village of Manchester, Michigan centered on the current village offices, formal before consolidation with the western portion "Manchester" changed in attempts to improve community image, the concurrent USPS designation of the Village of Manchester, Michigan zip code 48158. Washtenaw County, Michigan
Other areas known as Podunk include:
- An area of East Hartford, Connecticut in the Podunk River basin including Vinton's Pond
- An area, now a ghost town, nine miles (14 km) south of Shattuck, Oklahoma in Ellis County
- An area in Dixie National Forest containing a guard station known as the Podunk Guard Station
- Within Worcester County, Massachusetts (and involving three New England towns, each adjacent to at least one of the other two):
- An area of northwestern Rhode Island 3 miles (4.8 km) WNW of Pascoag
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Read, Allen 1939. "The Rationale of Podunk." American Speech 14(2): 99-108.
- Lacy, John. 1982. "If this is Podunk, it is truly nowhere", Hartford Courant, May 30, pg. E6.
- Shea, Jim. 2007. “Proud to be Podunk!” Hartford Courant, Jan 22.
- Goodrich, Samuel Griswold (1840). Token. Gray And Bowen. p. 109.
- "The Old North State". The New York Times. May 21, 1875. p. 6.
- Read, Allen 1939 "The Rationale of Podunk." American Speech 14(2): 99-108.
- Marteka, Peter (April 30, 2010). "South Windsor Creates 2.5-Mile Trail System Through Wapping Park". Hartford Courant.
- "Podunk Guard Station". Dixie National Forest.
- "Podonque Cemetery – Town of Rushford, Allegany County, NY". Allegany County Cemetery List. Allegany County Historical Society. Retrieved 2012-03-25.
- "Local Matters". Door County Advocate. February 9, 1871. p. 3.
- Fahrenthold, David (6 June 2006). "Life Goes On in a Town Called – What?". The Washington Post.
- Mencken, H.L. (25 September 1948). "The Podunk Mystery". The New Yorker.