Monday, November 20, 2017

Long words

     The longest place name in the world has 85 letters.  It begins with T and ends with u.  It’s a mountain in New Zealand, and the romantic Māori translation is, “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”  The second longest is in the UK and has 58 letters.  It begins with Ll and ends with och.  If you look it up I’d suggest not trying to pronounce it because it could tie a knot in your tongue.  The Welsh translation means, “Saint Mary's Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.”  Reminds me of a Kentucky hillbilly’s driving directions in the dark ages before GPS.

     The third longest place name in the world, and the longest in the United States, with 45 letters and 14 syllables, is owned by a beautiful 1,400-acre lake (actually three lakes joined by narrow channels) in quaint Webster, Massachusetts, not far from where I grew up.  My father taught me how to pronounce it, and I’ve never forgotten.

     It’s Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg.  The meaning is controversial, but many agree that the translation from the Algonquin means, “Fishing Place at the Boundaries—Neutral Meeting Grounds.” It’s located near the intersection of the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island borders, though that was of no concern to the native Nipmuc and Monuhchogok Indians who originally shared it with several other tribes way before white people showed up with too many clothes on and started paving everything.  Nipmuc campfire tales concerning the lake must have taken all night long to tell.

     Folk in the area today refer to it simply, and quite adequately, as Webster Lake (pronounced Webstah in the Eastern Massachusetts dialect). 

     Therein lies an important lesson for all us writers:

     Don’t use a long word when a short one will do.


1 comment:

  1. Too funny. But speaking as the only child in a large family where everyone else had a nickname, I can tell you that from my perspective, getting your long name shortened shows someone cares a little bit extra for you. Is it any wonder that I married the guy who gave me a shorter name?