Tuesday, February 08, 2005

what's in a word?

All right, vocabulary experts: can anyone help me with the difference between a creek and a stream? The dictionary had something about creeks being connected to swamps but streams could also be creeks.

By the Banks of Plum Creek, for example - what is it that makes Plum Creek a creeek and not a stream?

Words Written: none, nada, zip. Fell asleep instead
Lessons Graded: not enough


Joe said...

Smartass Answer A - In common American English usage, they're virtually the same.

Librarian Answer B - Etymologically, a "creek" does have to be connected to some sort of coastline or lakeshore (or, indeed, swampland - estuary - whassname). This distinction may still be alive and well in Europe, but the US and Commonwealth have been moving away from it for some time. A stream is pretty much any moving flow of water.

So the real question is "in what context". I know architecture majors who actually had a chart telling them the specific dimensions of Pebbles, Rocks, Stones, and Boulders. It wouldn't at all surprise me to find out that there is an official USGS-type answer to Streams vs. Creeks vs. Rivers (which may or may not be in harmony with anyone else's or current usage).

Personally, I think that a creek, or more precisely "crick", is a small flow of water but must be in a rural area. Streams can be rural, suburban, or urban. But Ye Olde OED (Revised) seems to disagree.

Swankette said...

I take issue with Joe's last paragraph. Growing up in suburbia, in a devlopment known as "Rock Creek" and having many fond childhood memories taking place at said Creek and being a graduate of Rock Creek Elementary School I KNOW Creeks do not need to be rural.

I'll defer to the librarian on the rest of it, though.

Anonymous said...

How about this take:

Creeks can become streams that can become rivers. I think it's a question of size, really. A creek is something you could jump across (like the creek the flowed behind my townhouse development in suburban VA). A stream is a bit wider, you probably couldn't leap across it unless you were being chased by the cops. And we all know what a river is like.

This reminds me of a story my Sweetie tells about her time spent in England. Her boyfriend took her up to Stratford and she giggled upon seeing the Avon river. What's so funny, the boyfriend asked. "You call that a river?" she responded. "Back home we'd call that a creek!"

Apparently English "rivers" are rather small. I'm just saying...


Joe said...

Spoon's right. Creeks are smaller than streams are smaller than rivers.

But I stand by my assertion that creeks only exist in rural areas. Things called creeks in urban areas (we've got a Rock Creek in DC too) were either (a) named before the urban area got built up there, or (b) more likely, named semi-ironically, like all the developments named after what we plowed under to build them (Kings Farm, Shady Pines...)

Sadly, "Talk Like Joe Does" is not yet a published style manual, and Chicago and the AP guides are silent on the subject. The beauties of current usage.