Chargoggag… etc. revisited

Photo: Webster Lake Association

Did you know there’s a Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg?

I do (I even know how to pronounce it) and today it got me in trouble on Twitter because I did what I usually do with NewsCut, I connected unrelated (though interesting) facts with something that’s currently in the news, in this case the effort to rename Lake Calhoun, something I started calling attention to in May 2011.

Some people thought it was racist, because, I suspect, people didn’t know Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg existed and to them it sounded like Donald Trump explaining how to do business with people from Asia.

But Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg is a real place. It’s in Webster, Mass., the scene of my first job in radio and Massachusetts is pretty proud of it.

I’ve taken to referring to myself as a Minnesotan, but today was a good reminder that I’ll always be a loyal son of the Bay State.

The name is cool, as the New York Times pointed out when Massachusetts had its own umlaut moment a few years ago.

“It’s unbelieveable how many people know about this lake. It’s really good to be able to say the name correctly to the people I talk to,” Richard Cazeault, president of the lake association, told Robert Siegel on NPR.

Well, maybe not.

A little context would’ve been helpful, for sure. Like what I did in a similar and non-heated conversation on the subject on Facebook.

On Twitter, however, I’d already surrendered 45 characters to the name of the lake itself, and I still needed to relate it to a news story, because that’s what I do. I’m sorry for that; I’m no Twitter neophyte and I know that people are locked and loaded at all times. It was a rookie mistake and I’m not a rookie.

Unlike Minnesota’s history, in Massachusetts, we don’t have a need to rename a lot of our lakes or anything else back to their Nipmuck, Mohawk, Algonquin, Stockbridge Mahican, Iroquois, and Wampanoag names because we valued our history to begin with, although whites did the same thing to the Nipmuck that Minnesota whites did to the Dakota, and John C. Calhoun did to the Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole.

But we haven’t turned away from the history. Perhaps you’ve noticed our state’s name, which is a derivative of massadchuset, or “big hill” in the language of the Algonquin.

So, I made a big massadchuset out of a small tweet.

This is the part where, perhaps, you expect me to declare, “See, I’m not a racist.” I’m not going to do that because (a) people who declare they’re not racist usually are and (b) I’m white. Of course I’m at least a little bit racist by current conventions.

MPR, on the other hand, is justifiably concerned that the tweet will suggest that MPR is racist because “perception is reality.” I think you know better, but that’s just the way it is, even though the only thing perception is is perception. Reality comes from context, and truth, and information, all of which was missing from the tweet, and which we don’t often ascertain before invoking the nuclear option of declaring someone “racist,” in effect diminishing the power of a word that shouldn’t be diminished.

I don’t think we should do that, but expectations and wishes aren’t reality either.

I don’t know what Lake Calhoun is going to be renamed to; personally, I favor Mde Maka Ska but if a non-Native American name is selected and it gets Calhoun wiped from the state, I’m OK with that too.

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg? There’s no logic in using it. And, you may have heard, it’s taken.

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