The local authorities in the town of Webster, Massachusetts are planning to change the road signs that lead to the local lake. The sign leads to lake “Chargoggagoggmanchaoggagoggchaubunaguhgamaugg”, but it should actually lead to “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg”.
According to the Guiness Book of Records, the name of the lake is the fifth longest word in the world and the longest lake name anywhere. The name originates from the local language of the Nipmuc indians. Freely translated, the name means “You fish on your side, I fish on my side and nobody fishes in the middle of the lake”. A nice example of native Amercican divide and conquer…
The interesting bit, however, is that there are 26 spelling variations of the name in the US Geographic Names System and that none of these variations match the actual road signs.
Naturally, the authorities could spend time and money to find out how these mistakes have been brought about. I think, however, that an investment in standardisation would be a much wiser choice.
This example is of course rather extraordinary and the discriminating value of “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg” is quite high. But different spelling of geographical items will eventually lead to toponymic confusion (see my blogpost earlier this year). Apparently, the inhabitants of Webster call the lake “Lake Webster”. I wonder whether that has got something to do with the pronunciation of Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg…?