Sean Karson's Blog

Read about Sean's travels and and his take on various hot topics in tech.

A Lake By Any Other Name

A Lake By Any Other Name

...would be much easier to pronounce.

Hey, I'm Sean! Well, I'm now officially an MIT alum, and the real world is just around the corner. I figured this was as good a time as any to start a blog, so I just needed to decide on a name. I went with Cowabunga Chimichanga.

Back in middle school, I had an elderly substitute teacher named Mrs. Babcock. She would usually hand the day's assignment out to the class and then sit at her desk and knit for 45 minutes. She was odd, but in a good way. One day she broke from this usual routine and told us about when she lived in New England and the magical lake there that she would frequent in her younger days.

She told us, of course, of the famous Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, pronounced exactly as it's spelled, but not the other way around. Located in Webster, MA, some of the more dull locals call it Lake Webster, or simply "The Lake". The name comes from the Nipmuc Indian language and is said to mean "Fishing Place at the Boundaries - Neutral Meeting Grounds." However, the completely bogus, yet more entertaining, translation is "You fish on your side. I fish on my side. Nobody fishes in the middle."

From the moment Mrs. Babcock wrote those beautiful 45 letters on the board, I knew I must see this lake. Only an hour's drive from Boston, I convinced my friend Caitlin to take me by adding in a hiking stop at Douglas State Forest. After 10 years of anticipation, I finally made it to Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.

Lake Sign

Caitlin did not know quite what she was in for, as I had brought along some songs and poems about the lake, which I read aloud or played over the car radio. Surprisingly, Ethel Merman recorded a catchy (and racist!) number about the lake back in the 50s: The Lake Song. In addition to that song, Caitlin just adored the poem about when the town tried to shorten the lake's name:

"Touch not a g!" No impious hand Shall wrest one from that noble name
Fifteen in all their glory stand
And ever shall the same.
For never shall that number down,
Tho Gogg and Magogg shout and thunder;
Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg's renown
Shall blaze, the beacon of the town,
While nations gaze and wonder.

To my disappointment, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg really is just a lake, albeit a beautiful one.

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

I am sure visiting the places with longer names out there in the world will be more exciting, such as Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu in New Zealand and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in the UK. They are now on my list!

So why Cowabunga Chimichanga? Well, my mom thanked Caitlin on Facebook for taking me to the lake, but when she couldn't find the name, she used Cowabunga Chimichanga instead. We thought it was hilarious and my friends and I started using it as our pub trivia team name. That's Caitlin in the back right:

Trivia Team

When I hear "Cowabunga Chimichanga", I picture it as some Mexican restaurant's food challenge. If you can devour the gargantuan chimichanga in half an hour, your picture goes on the wall and you don't pay anything. That is, until you have to buy some Immodium at the drugstore next door. I think it's a good name. Memorable, funny, and rolls off the tongue.

I am on vacation for two weeks with my mom to celebrate graduation, so look out for some posts about our trip!