In the northeastern United States, lumbermen called the stagnant backwaters of lakes and rivers pokelogans. The word appears to be cognate with pocosin. The root sense may have meant something like “land covered with shallow water,” but whereas a pokelogan is always part of a larger body of water, a pocosin is landlocked. Thoreau heard the term on his first trip to Maine from George McCauslin, a log driver on the Penobscot River: “Now and then we passed what McCauslin called a pokelogan, an Indian term for what the drivers might have reason to call a poke-log-in, an inlet that leads nowhere.” Such places as Pocasset, a village on Cape Cod, are etymological cousins, at a greater or a lesser remove, of pocosin and pokelogan, according to William Tooker, writing in an 1899 edition of American Anthropologist. Did the Euro-American settlers realize that they were naming their community something like Backwater or Large Puddle?

Franklin Burroughs