The 45-Letter Lake

When it comes to length, place names in indigenous languages can outrun English ones by miles. An example? In what is now New England, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, the Nipmuc people’s word for “we name lake this, we make record book some day.” In all seriousness, it means “English knifemen and Nipmuc Indians at the boundary of neutral fishing place” – a word any language could use, if you ask us.

The eponymous 1,442-acre body of water lies in south-central Massachusetts on the Connecticut border. The shorter version found on maps, much to the chagrin of the locals (“Don’t go messin’ on our claim to fame”), ­amounts to a paltry 17 letters: Chaubunagungamaug. The lake is also known as Webster Lake after a sizeable town on its shores. How do you spell yawn?

Even in its longer version the lake name is no match for that of a hill on the North Island of New Zealand – the 85-letter Maori word taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, which anyone familiar with Polynesian languages will immediately recognize as “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who traveled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”

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