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September 09, 2011


Doc Sci, it's interesting, if not surprising, how closely the North Jersey/South Jersey divide is reflected in the maps. North Jersey conforms to the NY/New England conventions while South Jersey conforms to a mixture of the Pennsylvania and Delmarva conventions. The line is almost exactly the old East Jersey/West Jersey line from colonial times, which still makes for an accurate division between what we now call North and South Jersey. (I imagine a map showing affiliations with professional sports teams in NJ would yield similar results.)

As far as I can see, the only waterways* in Germany** that carry a defining term (like creek) in their name are -Kanal (canals, which usually have purely functional names) and -bach (creek/brook). The latter also occurs in many village names (e.g. Lauterbach = pure water creek or Eberbach = boar brook). Rivers only have their own name (Rhein, Elbe etc.) with no defining term attached. Those river names can become part of a town/city's name but then it is [river name]+[dwelling definer] like Düsseldorf. Special case: towns at estuaries/river mouths. Those often are named [river name]+Münde (Travemünde, Peenemünde), i.e. 'where river X flows into river Y or the sea'.
It's not that German lacks terms for waterways of different size but our naming conventions seem to be different.
Btw, there is no logic in whether rivers etc. are 'articled' female or male. The Rhine is male, the Elbe is female and I believe personifications (e.g. as statues) are a rather recent development. I know of no genuine tradition of river deities, those seem to be Romantic inventions. Mythical creatures/persons living in rivers have a tradition but those water sprites etc. are not personified rivers/lakes themselves. Slavic culture has it, German seems not to have it. In the Middle Ages all rivers in Slavic regions were named with a female ending because the rivers were seen as daughters of the sea god, later some were turned male by dropping the terminal -a (Dnjepra => Dnejpr, Volchova*** => Volchow) others stayed female (Moskwa, Volga).

*lakes etc. excluded here
**I'd say it's similar in Austria and German speaking Switzerland.
***cf. Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Sadko where Volchova, the sea tsar's daughter, becomes the river Volchov(a) giving Nowgorod access to the sea.

Growing up as a child of Midwesterners in northern Virginia, I remember "Branch" and "Run" being the dominant words used in names for these things, but we actually called them creeks or streams, though we'd certainly have recognized other words.

Neglect not George R. Stewart's other works: he's known for Earth Abides, a classic of sf catastrophism, and Ordeal By Hunger a fine narrative of the Donner Party tragedy. If I had my way, his lesser-known East of the Giants would be taught in California secondary schools along with Dana's Two Years Before The Mast.

Fire is not as well-written.

will have to check out these books. Geography (and your choice of art) is fascinating.

It is also interesting how the use of names has morphed as Americans moved west. In northern California, pretty much anything which isn't big enough to be a "river" (not that it is clear where the lower size limit is for that term) is a "creek." Even if it never comes within 50 miles of an ocean or bay. We have creeks flowing into other creeks, which, eventually, flow into rivers. Any association with "tidewater" is totally lost.

One reason for the difference in naming (and the absence of smaller waterway names) might be that in the US, the much larger area of land to collect rainfall from might lead to a lot more places that look dried up most of the year, but after a rainy period, would be the equivalent of full fledged rivers. which would be a bit different from the experience of those coming from the mother country.

There's also the influence of the Ordinance Survey, which probably would have acted to reduce diversity in naming. The Brian Friel play Translations has this as an element of the plot as does the Hugh Grant movie with the incredibly long title of "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain"

Also, the etymology of the words gives a possible explanation for the lack of variety in the UK. Creek is from Old Norse and originally meant a narrow islet, while brook was a dialect word in Sussex and Kent meaning a watery meadow, which makes sense because the region is low-lying and next to the sea, so I'm not sure if the naming in the Midlands represents a waterway as such. Stream seems to have had a more general meaning of moving water so might not get assigned in the UK, but the colonists, when faced with a geographical phenomenon that didn't match their experience, might reach for those names. Rill is an English dialect word that was used for a small stream, but that doesn't seem to have been picked up in the US. Interestingly, the map suggests that bayou is another equivalent, and several sources say that word is originally from Choctaw bayuk, but in my Choctaw dictionary, I can't find the word.

Contrary to the map, in Ohio it might be common to hear of a road named "Sand Run" or something similar, BUT! It would be beyond unusual to hear someone conversationally use "run" to refer to a small waterway. They would call it a "stream."

I agree with Patrick in that I don't think I ever heard of a "run" when I was growing up in Ohio, except maybe while studying the Civil War in high school. But in my part of Ohio (northeastern), "stream" wasn't used either, except maybe now and then as a generic term. We called a little waterway a creek, or, more common in the country where my grandma lived, a "crick."

And just to extend topic of water vocabulary a bit, in the state where I live now there are interesting naming issues relating to the difference between a lake and a pond.

I'm going to agree with pretty much everything said by Janie about NE OH naming conventions... except for runs. I lived about a quarter-mile from a Run, and had maybe heard of one other in the area. Oddly, though, I never even parsed it as a word for "crick" until I read this post. It just sorta was part of the creek's name to me, I suppose...

Yeah, I think "Run" is usually part of a name, not a generic term for what people would more likely call a creek.

On the other hand, in New England, "brook" actually does work both as a name element and a generic term (my street is Twin Brooks Circle, and there actually are twin brooks here, one of which provides excellent drainage for my property).

By the way, I initially visually parsed that lovely Sargent painting as another map.

I'm curious about all of those black dots in South Jersey, running through Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and into Ohio and Indiana. What do those represent? There's no black dot on the legend.

I grew up in South Jersey, and in my experience almost everything that's not the Delaware is a creek (Rancocas, Pennsauken), with rare exceptions (Mullica, Cooper) which are rivers. Where I lived brook was a generic term for a tiny stream like the one in the woods behind the houses across the street from my parents'. Brooks you can walk across without getting your feet wet.

Here in Michigan pretty much everything is a river, as far as I can tell, except if something gets small enough (you can walk across it in galoshes, not hip boots) it's a creek.

In Japanese the name for river in the kun-yomu (the "native" Japanese reading of kanji characters) is 'kawa', while the on-yomu (Chinese reading) is 'sen.' Sen is relatively rare for this word in Japanese usage; kawa is ubiquitous in place names (Kawasaki, Kanagawa (with a softened consonant, often common), Arakawa Ward in Tokyo), and family names (Kawaguchi, Kawabata, Morikawa, etc.), and of course, for rivers - the Sumidagawa (River), with a softened consonant, common in Japanese, as well as the Edogawa (River).

As for kanji for river, the most commonly used ideogram is (for those of you who cannot pick this up on your screen, I'll describe: it's three vertical strokes, with the first stroke on the left slightly curved at the bottom, to the left, and the middle stroke slightly shorter than the others).

There is a different kanji (too difficult to describe here) that exists, and which often is used for a large river. I have been trying to sleuth down, without much luck, what accounts for the difference between this kanji and the more commonly used one other than this loose description.

Check out here for what I would hope might be a visible, readable compendium of kanji for this word, along with the compounds for it (brook, rapids, etc.).

My apologies - I tried to embed a link in the message and it didn't work where I wrote "check out here..."

I still can't make it work! (LJ, are you out there?)

It does give one an excuse to refer to "New York Kill Country." What more can you ask of a map?

Hi Sekaijin, just back in, but unfortunately, as this is Doc Science's post, I can't go in and edit any of the comments, I can only do that on posts that I author.

Indiana and Michigan are riddled with "creeks" and "cricks". "Brook" is not really used all that much, according to memory.

Sorry LJ! Should've known. I'll try to do what I can on my end - but thank you.


I can't see anything that might be a link in your comment -- no http, no html code, nothing. See what happens when you post the URL without any http, like this:


Don K:

I think the black dots are for where two (or more) toponyms overlap at the resolution of the map.

For instance, in my area of central NJ we have: Stony Brook, Assunpink Creek (though that's just a hair further south, at the northern limit of "creek"), Honey Branch, Ten Mile Run, and of course various things named "River".

nobody in NYS calls a stream a "kill". the Dutch did, a few hundred years back, and the names stuck. but nobody says "i'm gonna go down to the kill and see if i can find some crayfish".

Here in Illinois, "run" was commonly used for very small streams in the early 19th Century, but that usage went by the wayside. Now, the runs in our area have been renamed creeks. "Brook" is no longer common here, except as the name for towns; Oak Brook comes to mind. In general, creeks are small streams, and rivers are larger ones. But historically, the usage blurs. The AuSable is called both a creek and a river, as is the Mazon, depending on which section is being referenced. I've always been sorry to see the word "run" disappear around these parts.

One sidelight on watercourse name usage: In May 1832, actual hostilities of the Black Hawk War began in northern Illinois when a battalion of drunken militia led by Maj. Isaiah Stillman attacked and was completely routed by a small group of Sauk and Fox warriors led by the Sauk warrior Black Hawk. Stillman's entire battalion of more than 200 men ran away, reportedly with Maj. Stillman in the lead. The battle took place along Old Man Creek, which the settlers renamed (with commendable frontier humor) Stillman's Run.

cleek:"nobody in NYS calls a stream a "kill". "

NYS isn't the only place that got some of that Dutch goodness.

Philadelphians call a local river "The Schuylkill", which probably doesn't count, but *should*.

Especially if one pronounces it something like "Skookle," which I am assured is the correct Fluhdelfian way.

I grew up in Southern California, where we didn't have any of these whatchamacallits under any name, except a few "arroyos" that were dry most of the time. (I actually lived for a while just off the aptly named "Arroyo Seco.") But I surmised "Run" was one of the terms for such mini-rivers from reading about the battle of Bull Run: correctly, it turns out!

Fresh Kills is not remotely as alarming as it sounds.

I'd like to say more about George R. Stewart, especially since Earth Abides was the Book Of Honor at the past Potlatch sf convention, and there were some fascinating discussions of him, including by a biographer of him, but I'll leave with the note that I still remember the book fondly -- but haven't reread more than the first couple of chapters in decades -- and some of the younger readers thought it dates badly, so as in much, YMMV.

There's plenty at those links and you can skip the plot summary part of the Wikipedia entry on the book.

Interesting. I use stream and brook pretty much interchangeably, and I've lived in CT for all but ~9 months of my life. If forced to choose one, I'd go with stream.

I love the maps.

I grew up in urban Northern California, where water flows in concrete-lined "channels". Moving to the suburbs, we have "creeks" (which are usually lined with concrete or cobbles). In the Eastern Sierra Nevada, where Husband and I vacation, there are "creeks" and "rivers" that flow year-round, and "drainages" that run in the spring snowmelt.

This is fascinating. For the definitive Pacific Northwest explanation of "creek" vs. "crick," one has to go to Patrick McManus:


An excerpt:

"Creeks tend to be pristine. They meander regally through high mountain meadows, cascade down dainty waterfalls, pause in placid pools, ripple over beds of gleaming gravel and polished rock. They sparkle in the sunlight. Deer and poets sip from creeks, and images of eagles wheel upon the surface of their mirrored depths.

Cricks, on the other hand, shuffle through cow pastures, slog through beaver dams, gurgle through culverts, ooze through barnyards, sprawl under sagging bridges, and when not otherwise occupied, thrash fitfully on their beds of quicksand and clay. Cows should perhaps be credited with giving cricks their most pronounced characteristic. In deference to the young and the few ladies left in the world whose sensitivities might be offended, I forgo a detailed description of this characteristic. Let me say only that to a cow the whole universe is a bathroom, and it makes no exception for cricks. A single cow equipped only with determination and fairly good aim can in a matter of hours transform a perfectly good creek into a crick."


Well, I am just not going to even try and remember how many cricks I have slaked my thirst from.

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