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from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Chiefly South Atlantic U.S. A swamp in an upland coastal region. Also called regionally dismal.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A low, wooded swamp in (especially coastal) Eastern Maryland or Virginia; a palustrine wetland with deep, acidic peat soils.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. See the quotation.
  • n. A tract of low land; a swamp; a marsh.


Possibly of Virginia Algonquian origin.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From an unknown Algonquian word, perhaps related to Abenaki pôgwaso ("very shallow"). (Wiktionary)



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  • "In coastal Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the Carolinas, a swamp or marsh can be called a pocosin or a dismal, the second term illustrated in the name of the Dismal Swamp on the border of North Carolina and Virginia. The word pocosin, pronounced po-KO-sin but also occasionally PO-ko-sin--c_b note: I've never in my life heard that pronunciation is probably a borrowing from Virginia Algonquian, the extinct Algonquian language of eastern Virginia. The early settlers used pocosin as a designation for low swampy ground, especially a wooded swamp."
    More Word Histories and Mysteries, from the editors of American Heritage Dictionaries, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006

    Jennarenn's right--there's a city in eastern Virginia called Poquoson, that's pronounced just like this word, and it's very low-lying indeed, though it's an incorporated city. During Isabel a couple years ago, Poquoson was one of the hardest-hit areas on the peninsula (naturally, because it's so low-lying).

    August 30, 2008

  • Yes, you're right--and I hadn't even thought of that when I listed this word! No wonder it was confusing.

    I've always suspected that the Great Dismal Swamp was redundantly named....

    April 30, 2007

  • This comment thread took me forever to unravel. There's a city of Poquoson in Virginia with the same pronunciation, and it's located in the same region as the Great Dismal Swamp.

    April 30, 2007

  • Oooh--you just gave me an idea for another list! Thanks, trivet!

    April 30, 2007

  • wetlands have the best names!

    April 30, 2007

  • (used mainly in the southeastern U.S.) A swamp in an upland coastal region. Also regionally called dismal.

    April 30, 2007