Brook, creek, stream, rill

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Twitter thread on small waterway names:


Behind my house in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania runs Little Crum Creek.  Several hundred feet downstream it is joined by its East Branch.  Four miles to the south, Little Crum Creek runs into Crum ("crooked", from Dutch) Creek.  After another mile or so southward, Crum Creek flows into the mighty Delaware River.  All the rivers of the world depend upon a myriad of small streams to form them.  Some of the happiest days of my life have been spent running and walking through Crum Woods, though which Crum Creek flows, just to the west of Swarthmore College.

It seems that there have always been creeks (or "cricks") near where I lived at various stages of my life, but they were designated by different names:  kill, rill, brook, stream, rivulet, run, runnel, fork….  In the Twitter thread cited above, one commenter mentioned the word "holler" for a creek in Gainesville, Georgia, and square peg mama, who initiated the thread, asked "What the heck is a holler!!!?? Like when you holler up the stairs?"  My guess is that it derives from "hollow", a small valley though which a stream flows.

Two summers ago, our family gathered in the south central portion of Ohio to celebrate brother Dave's 80th birthday.  As we stayed in the area of Tar Hollow State Park, we encountered some interesting names for streams and brooks.  I liked the name of Paint Creek that we walked along for about twenty miles.  I was particularly attracted to small, fast moving streams referred to as "runs", e.g., Pike Run, East Fork Pike Run.

If we start to look at Native American names, then we find some very interesting terms, such as Ottauquechee ("swift mountain stream").

My brother lives in Walla Walla (Washington).  For me, the name of the town has always had a droll ring to it (the Three Stooges mentioned Walla Walla humorously).  Here's one story of how it got its name:

Walla Walla is a First Nations name meaning "many waters." In 1805, when Lewis and Clark traveled by the mouth of a small river flowing into the Columbia River, they met a group of Native Americans who told them their name for the small river was "Wallah Wallah." So Lewis and Clark called the Indian tribe by the same name as the river.

But to pursue that theme, I'd have to write a separate post.


As Jay Elston wrote in reply to the question "What's the difference between these names of moving water?",

Generally, the difference is size: you can step over a brook, jump over a creek, wade across a stream, and swim across a river. But the distinction between them (especially creek and stream) is somewhat hazy, and depends on who named them and when they were named. A run (such as Bull Run in Virginia) is a "small stream".


[h.t. Barbara Phillips Long; thanks to Thomas L. Mair]


  1. Scott P. said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 4:27 pm

    In the Twitter thread cited above, one commenter mentioned the word "holler" for a creek in Gainesville, Georgia, and square peg mama, who initiated the thread, asked "What the heck is a holler!!!?? Like when you holler up the stairs?" My guess is that it derives from "hollow", a small valley though which a stream flows.

    Thus the Appalachian town of "Hootin' Holler," where the action of the comic strip Barney Google and Snuffy Smith takes place.

  2. john burke said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 4:46 pm

    Every summer we go away to Baden Baden Baden
    Every winter we come back home to Walla Walla Walla

    –"Triplets," from The Band Wagon (lyrics by Howard Dietz, music by Arthur Schwartz)

  3. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 5:11 pm

    To me:

    'Brook' and 'stream' are equivalent, though 'stream' has other meanings as well (e.g. in 'The Gulf Stream').

    I would never use 'creek' in this context; creeks are inlets of the sea.

    I'm also aware, from my childhood in Yorkshire, of 'beck', but wouldn't use it spontaneously.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 5:13 pm

    @ Scott P.

    I wonder how many people were aware that the name "Google" existed long before the search engine came into being.


    Eventually, they changed the name to Google; the name of the search engine originated from a misspelling of the word "googol", the number 1 followed by 100 zeros, which was picked to signify that the search engine was intended to provide large quantities of information.


    And I'm guessing that Barney Google got his name from a transformation of his "goggle eyes".

  5. Greg S. said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 5:21 pm

    There's a mapping of the various toponyms from the NSGS Hydrology dataset here:

  6. Julian said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 5:59 pm

    Early 19th English visitors to Australia (well, at least one that I recall) were amused by the fact that 'creek' and 'river' had swapped meanings. In Australia, 'creek' = freshwater stream; 'river' may mean a tidal inlet (it may also have its normal meaning of a larger freshwater stream).

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 7:00 pm

    The Derek Watkins map seems not to have "creek" as an option, maybe because (in the US) it's not so regionally confined, but it makes the map a bit misleading, because where I grew up (only about a dozen miles southwest of where Prof. Mair lives now along Little Crum Creek), "creek" was definitely the market leader for "freshwater stream too small to be a river." That some more regionally-marked term like "run" or "branch" might have been a distant second locally but be entirely unknown in other parts of the country, is interesting up to a point, but obscures the greater salience of "creek." The creek my family's house backed up onto when I was in my teens has its own wikipedia entry, although that may just mean that the "notability" police aren't cracking down very hard in that area. In the house I lived in before that, back to infancy, we kids mostly just referred to the creek in the woods that you entered by going down to the end of the street and across the parking lot for the swimming pool as "the creek" (or maybe "The Creek"), but now that I can access high-quality zoom-in topographical maps of that neighborhood I can confirm that it was an apparently unnamed minor tributary of Shellpot Creek , which likewise has its own wikipedia page (and whose name may be an eggcornish modification of a name given by the 17th-century Swedes that became opaque once no one in the area was fluent in Swedish anymore).

  8. Bloix said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 7:27 pm

    Here in Maryland, we don't have brooks.

    We do have a lot of creeks. Rock Creek, Ten Mile Creek, Piscataway Creek, Tuscarora Creek. More creeks than any other name. A creek is usually a free-flowing stream, although around the Chesapeake Bay, inlets are called creeks. If free-flowing, a creek is generally not deep enough even for a canoe, but an inlet of the bay can be a creek even though it's wide and deep enough for a good-sized chartered fishing boat.

    And we have a fair number of runs, although not as many as Virginia.

    But more than elsewhere, we have branches. In most places, a branch means that far upstream a river splits into the North Branch and the South Branch of the Whatever River, but here branch has a life of its own. Paint Branch, Muddy Branch, Little Falls Branch, Watts Branch, Cypress Branch, Horsepen Branch, etc.

  9. Jim Breen said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 7:33 pm

    In Australia we mostly only have rivers (larger, usually end up in the sea or a lake) and creeks (smaller, usually run into a river.) In Melbourne I live on the banks of a creek that flows through parkland, joins another larger creek, which in turn flows into the Yarra River. There's no need for a river to be saltwater or tidal, in fact the vast majority aren't except close to estuaries.

  10. Bloix said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 7:39 pm

    Oh, I forgot to answer the quiz. The picture is of a creek. I live in Montgomery County, Maryland.

  11. Sophie MacDonald said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 10:26 pm

    Creek or stream for me! Too small for me to call it a river. I grew up in rural Ontario, along a lovely stretch of water called Willow Creek, which gets river-like in parts as it winds its way through the glorious Minesing Wetlands. It then discharges into the Nottawasaga River, which empties into Lake Huron. There are several other creeks in that area (Black, Matheson, Marl, Bear, …).

  12. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 26, 2020 @ 11:20 pm

    I grew up in Peekskill, NY, in a house on the bank of the eponymous kill, known locally as Peekskill Hollow Brook, though in our household we called it simply "the creek". So there you go, four names for the price of one.

    This creek is a tributary of the Hudson River, which at that point (if I remember right) is really an estuary, since the flow changes direction with the tides.

  13. Bob Ladd said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 1:42 am

    Since I seem to be the first reader in Scotland on this thread, let me be the one to add burn to the list of possible names for small waterways.

  14. Chris Partridge said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 2:10 am

    In Dorset, England, there is the ever-popular River Piddle. Apparently in comes from the Dorest dialect.

  15. Dave said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 2:22 am

    'beck' doesn't sound far off from 'Bach' (which is what they are a few km from here)

  16. David Morris said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 2:51 am

    That's a creek.

    Walla Walla, New South Wales, means 'many rocks', if I can believe Wikipedia.

  17. Chris said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 4:09 am

    To a European, the most striking thing about American rivers is how many of them there are and how large they are. If you travel in Europe and find a town with a placid stream running through it, you might be told that it's the upper reaches of the Rhone or the Mosel. But if you drive in the Midwest and come across a valley with a mighty raging torrent cascadiing down it, it usually turns out to be something like the middle fork of Bear Run.

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 4:11 am

    [Etymology of "Google"] — I imagine that most readers "of a certain age" (i.e., those of us who spend most of their lives searching (literally, q.v.) for something that they put down only a few moments ago) will, like me, have known of "Googolplex" for most of their lives, long long before the search-engine was even a twinkle in its daddy's eye. Wikipedia says :

    In 1920, Edward Kasner's nine-year-old nephew, Milton Sirotta, coined the term googol, which is $10^{100}$, then proposed the further term googolplex to be "one, followed by writing zeroes until you get tired".[1] Kasner decided to adopt a more formal definition because "different people get tired at different times and it would never do to have Carnera a better mathematician than Dr Einstein, simply because he had more endurance and could write for longer".[2] It thus became standardized to $10^{{10}^{100}}$.

    [E&OE — lots of markup needed]

  19. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 4:26 am

    Thank you, Bob Ladd :-)

    Burn and stream are essentially interchangeable to me, whether you can jump it or not, although sometimes I wonder whether an English stream minds being called a burn – especially if it calls itself a beck or something!

  20. Michael Watts said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 4:28 am

    I might call it a creek or a stream. I know the word brook, but I would be unlikely to use that word myself.

    I might also call it a river, since to me river is the category term for water running in a generally linear way.

  21. CNH said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 6:40 am

    I would guess. that apart from a few streams following into the River Thames, 'creek' is semi-obsolete in the UK.

  22. Philip Taylor said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 7:12 am

    Yes, "Barking Creek" and "Deptford Creek" come immediately to mind, so the term is still in use, albeit probably only in a restricted set of circumstances as you suggest. There are some in Essex (Clements Green Creek, Fenn Creek, … ) and at least one "oop North" — Greatham Creek, in the Tees Valley, so it is not entirely restricted to the Thames.

  23. Ralph Hickok said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 7:43 am

    For at least the first 16 years of my life, which were spent in northeastern Wisconsin, I would have called it a creek (pronounced "crick"). Now that I've lived in Massachusetts for more than 60 years, I'd call it a brook.

  24. Chris Button said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 8:19 am

    This all makes me think of how 江 "(Yangtze) river" in Chinese is a well-known Austroasiatic loanword (I think originally identified by Norman & Mei in 1976), rather than a native Sinitic term, that spread across many Tibeto-Burman and Tai-Kadai languages too.

    @ Bloix

    That's where I live too–same county as well. I often go to Rock Creek Park. I'm from England originally though.

  25. KeithB said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 8:52 am

    In the southwest, that is a river. 8^)

  26. Rodger C said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 9:08 am

    I believe that in West Virginia, a creek is officially a stream less that 100 miles long. I grew up near Twelve Pole Creek, a sizable watercourse*–it could be a river in many places–which is 99 miles long. I also believe that Ohio has a different definition.

    *In fact it's twelve surveyors' rods wide at its mouth.

  27. Robert Coren said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 9:18 am

    I think I'd call it a stream or a brook, more likely the former. When I translate the texts of Romantic German lieder, I always use "brook" for Bach (or the diminutive Bächlein).

    Here in Gloucester, MA (and other North Shore communities), there are numerous tidal inlets that are called "rivers"; if I look out my west-facing windows I can see the Annisquam River, which used to be an inlet but was converted to a strait when the Blynman Canal (locally referred to as "the Cut") was created in the 17th century.

  28. Richard Hershberger said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 10:02 am

    Grew up in southern California, including the Mojave Desert, and now live in Maryland. Today I would definitely go with "creek." As a kid, probably "stream" in a generic sense, but if local would probably be named "[Something] River" if it had water more or less all the time. The standard for rivers in that region is low.

    The Derek Watkins map is fascinating, but I question some of the categories. A "wash" out in the Mojave has water only very intermittently, perhaps going dry for years at a time. This is quite distinct from continuously flowing water. My sense is that "arroyo" is used the same way, but I am less confident of this.

    I wonder also about "slough." This suggests brackish water to me. I went to college at UC Santa Barbara, which is next to the Goleta Slough, which is more or less a saltwater marsh. There is an identifiable bed with flowing water through the slough. I see on Google Maps that this is the Tecolotito Creek, though I don't recall that name from when I was there. My sense of "bayou" is similar, but not based on any local knowledge.

    Finally, there is "branch" and "fork." My sense is that these are upstream of a larger river of the same name, such as the West Branch Susquehanna River. I suppose this can take on a life of its own, but I wonder if there really are branches and forks not attached in this way.

  29. Richard Hershberger said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 10:24 am

    On a tangentially related note, what jumped out at me from that map is that it ties to the "base ball" versus "town ball" line. Baseball dates to the 18th century, brought to America by English colonists. The modern game descends from the version played in New York City. We call it "baseball" because that is what it was called there (usually written as two words: "base ball"). The other major term was "town ball."

    Turning to the map, that mass of blue in New England and New York, spreading westward through the Great Lakes is "base ball" territory. The mass of pink in Pennsylvania spreading into Ohio, and red through most of the South is "town ball" territory. The two comingle in the upper Mississippi.

    I worked this out some years ago, laboriously noting early references to either and their locations on index cards that I could then shuffle around. This stuff is much easier nowadays. I was quite startled just now to see the same results in an unrelated context. take it that we are seeing a single migration pattern in both cases.

  30. Bloix said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 11:17 am

    "Slough" is a word that I didn't know the meaning of – or even how to pronounce – until well into adulthood. All I knew was that it was some sort of geographical feature that they have out west somewhere.
    When we had our first child, we were given a lovely cassette – remember those? – of lullabies, and one, "Prairie Lullaby," had the refrain "lullaby, lullaby, coolees and sloughs," so I had look it up. Both them, actually. In a dictionary.


  31. OvV said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 11:35 am

    Dutch here.
    If this were in The Netherlands, I would call this a "beekje", diminutive of "beek".
    If I'm not sure how to call it, I can always use the more generic term "waterloop".

  32. Peter Grubtal said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 11:53 am

    Bloix –

    I always thought a "slough" was a bog or marsh – from the famous occurrence in literature – The Slough of Despond" in Pilgrim's Progress.

    As for a brook being able to be stepped over, there's Houseman's line "by brooks too broad for leaping the lightfoot boys are laid.." which suggests otherwise.

  33. iain said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 12:04 pm

    another comment from Scotland: I don't think I would ever use the words brook or creek, certainly not of waterways in Scotland. I would use stream, very rarely; my words would be burn and river, or perhaps sometimes water, as in , Water of Milk, Water of Fail, Water of Leith etc

  34. Brian Ogilvie said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 2:36 pm

    Just to complicate matters, the longest river entirely inside the state of Vermont is named "Otter Creek," though it is wide and deep enough for pleasure boating and is spanned by one of the few remaining two-lane covered bridges in the Northeast.

  35. Bloix said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 2:40 pm

    Peter Grubtal – I now know that although usually a slough is, literally and metaphorically, a swamp, on the prairie a slough is more like a slow-moving open-water channel or inlet of a river.

  36. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 2:54 pm

    Perhaps as a parallel to Otter Creek, one of the more significant rivers near where I grew up (inland a bit further if you live where VHM now lives) is formally called Brandywine Creek, but most current speakers in the area would describe it generically as a "river" not a "creek" due to its size and indeed the art museum near where it is crossed by U.S. 1 in Chadds Ford is officially the 'Brandywine River Museum." I don't know whether they get complaints about their name from toponymic peevers. This may suggest that the perceived size boundary between "creek" and "river" has shifted over the last 300+ years among Anglophones in the region? (One online source claims it may have been known as Brandewyn Kill when the Dutch were still in the region, but if so the "kill" got dropped before it became semantically opaque, unlike what happened with the Murderkill River about 60 miles to the south.)

  37. Bloix said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 3:03 pm

    Richard Hershberger – there really are branches that are not simply upstream tributaries of rivers whose names they share.
    Paint Branch, for example, joins Little Paint Branch and then the Northeast Branch, which flows into the Anacostia River, which runs into the Potomac. And Piney Branch flows into Watts Branch, which (like Muddy Branch) flows into the Potomac. These are fairly small creeks, and it wouldn't make sense to call them – out dozens like them – the northeast or northwest branches of the mighty Potomac.

    The Northeast and Northwest Branches do follow this pattern for the Anacostia, which splits into two roughly equal waterways.

    And upstream, far past the confluence with the broad Shenandoah, what's left of the Potomac does split into a North Branch and a South Branch, and the South Branch splits again into a North Fork and a South Fork. Horribly unimaginative naming.

  38. Alexander Browne said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 3:55 pm

    In Minneapolis, it's definitely a creek, homophonous with creak. Minnehaha Creek flows through the city. My cousin who is from SE Minnesota near the Wisc. and Iowa borders pronounces it as "crick".

    Until reading this, I'm not sure I could have said with 100% certainty that a brook was a rivulet rather than some kind of standing water.

    The term "burn" I encountered for the first time, was puzzled by, and figured out while reading the novel "The Thirty-Nine Steps" last week.

  39. Keith said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 4:54 pm

    One that's not yet been mentioned in this thread is "sitch", as in "Odin's Sitch" that flows into Peakshole Water in Castleton in the UK.,-1.7878787,16z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x487a2ce2b3fe97f5:0x4d0e7ab1a7790c3a!8m2!3d53.3450808!4d-1.7837474

  40. Rebecca said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 5:11 pm

    I’m defective in this regard, having grown up in western Kansas where even the things called rivers usually had little or no water flowing in them. It hardly matters how wide the bed is, if the trickle in the middle can be stepped over by a two year old.

  41. Trogluddite said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 5:29 pm

    I would call the illustrated water course a "beck". Here in the old West Riding of Yorkshire (as across much of Northern England), that's the ubiquitous term for any water course deep enough to overwhelm one's footwear but not deep enough for swimming (approximately!). All of the other terms mentioned thus far would be very unusual in the local dialect and toponyms.

    Another term preserved in toponyms around here is "sike" or "syke". This seems usually to refer to a stream which intermittently drains higher ground only after wet weather. However, there are pockets around the Yorkshire/Cumbria borders where the meaning is closer to "beck" as used here. I say "preserved" as I have never heard it used as a generic term, only when referring to named features.

    As the name of the Yorkshire Dales National Park suggests, we rarely speak of "valleys" here. The main river courses are always "dales", and becks might pass through "deans"/"denes" (in the foothills), "cloughs" (steeper gullies up in the hills), or "gills"/"ghylls" (rocky canyons).

    @Keith: I had never heard "sitch" previously, but a little Googling suggests that it shares its origins with "sike"/"syke".

  42. David P said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 7:59 pm

    Where I come from (Sonoran desert, southern Arizona) that is somewhere else.

  43. David Douglas ROBERTSON said,

    May 27, 2020 @ 10:47 pm

    Then there's Missouri-Iowa dialect "sny" (more or less a slough).

  44. Victor Mair said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 6:11 am

    @David Douglas ROBERTSON


    Great find! And the etymologies are fascinating.

    So many wonderful things in this thread! Thank you everyone.

  45. Rose Eneri said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 7:57 am

    It's a creek, as in Pennypack Creek in SE Pennsylvania, which drains into the Delaware River. I was interested to see that people from many areas other that Philadelphia say "crick." When I was a kid, we often went down to the crick to play.

  46. bks said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 8:33 am

    Riparian area.

  47. ajay said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 8:39 am

    I would never use 'creek' in this context; creeks are inlets of the sea.

    Arthur Hugh Clough would agree with you:

    For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
    Seem here no painful inch to gain,
    Far back through creeks and inlets making,
    Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

    Which makes me suspect that the reason for the exceptions noted by CNH and Philip Taylor –

    I would guess. that apart from a few streams following into the River Thames, 'creek' is semi-obsolete in the UK

    – is that all those creeks, since they flow into the lower Thames, are tidal. (The Essex and Teesmouth creeks are as well.)

    It's not a word I use much in BrE, but I think that I would use "creek" to mean a small watercourse near the sea, running through estuarine bog or something.

  48. Rodger C said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 11:05 am

    And upstream, far past the confluence with the broad Shenandoah, what's left of the Potomac does split into a North Branch and a South Branch, and the South Branch splits again into a North Fork and a South Fork. Horribly unimaginative naming.

    The Potomac above the Shenandoah is also called the Cohongoroota.

    Riparian area.

    Not to be confused with the Ripuarian area.

  49. Rodger C said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 11:10 am

    creeks are inlets of the sea

    A friend once described an English, or Englished, advertisement for a lodging place in, I think, Mallorca that touted it as "the unique hotel on the creek with current water."

  50. Coby Lubliner said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 11:24 am

    And then there is New York's East River, which is not a river. But then, Times Square is not a square.

  51. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 28, 2020 @ 7:23 pm

    The word gully has not come up here yet. Where I grew up north of the Catskills in New York State, a gully was like a natural ditch. It was formed by erosion but did not carry water continuously. Some gullies had standing water some of the time. Gullies sometimes grew into gulches. People where I grew up casually referred to one such ravine and its stream as the Bear Gulch. I can’t remember if the waterway was Bear Gulch Creek or not.

    There were hollows in the area. Mostly the word was pronounced as spelled, not as “holler.” Geographically, the county was in the Appalachians.

    This rural area had creeks, some of which were also “-kills.” But the local tavern was the Brookside, although it was by a stream called Mill Creek, if I remember correctly

    Some smaller waterways were either inlets or outlets connected to large ponds or freshwater lakes. Not all waterways that flow into larger bodies are inlets.

    When my family lived in Kentucky, I encountered lots of “runs.” I would have called them creeks or streams. I think I use brook for small natural waterways.

    I never got the impression that holler referred to a waterway in Kentucky. A holler might have had one — hollers are formed by erosion, as are ravines. I might also call them valleys. Mason County, Kentucky, where we lived, was in the Ohio River valley. At that point, there’s no mistaking the river for a creek, unlike the Susquehanna. I grew up near the edge of the Susquehanna watershed, and the beginnings of the river look like a creek to me.

  52. ajay said,

    May 29, 2020 @ 3:45 am

    Gully, I would say, is common across multiple varieties of English, meaning a natural ditch – most of the ones in Scotland carry water continuously, but then most of the terrain in Scotland carries water continuously regardless of its shape. (Listen for the familiar cry of the non-Scottish climber: "We're on top of a mountain. How can this be a bog?")

    In size terms, I'd say, a gully is deep enough to stand up in, but not big enough to build a house at the bottom. If it's that big, it's a glen or valley.

  53. Leo said,

    May 30, 2020 @ 2:54 pm

    Here in Devon "brook" is common. Another widespread name for such features is "X Water", for example Knowl Water near Barnstaple, but this is only for specific, not general, use – you don't hear people referring to "a water".

  54. Ann Dayton said,

    May 30, 2020 @ 6:28 pm

    It's a creek. Too big to be a brook, way too small to be a river. If there was something between brook and creek, that would be what I would call it.

    My mother was born and raised in the Mississippi Valley. When she saw our local (Central Coast California), she said, "That's a river?"

    To me, Californian born and bred, you can sail a ship on a river. A creek is shallow enough to wade across, and narrow enough that kids can make a "swimming hole" with a rock dam. As mentioned above, you can step over a brook. A rill is even smaller.

  55. Bathrobe said,

    June 2, 2020 @ 4:47 am

    I’m curious to know whether the use of “creek” in Australia is due to US influence during the colonial era. This influence is not unknown in other aspects of language.

  56. Gabe Ormsby said,

    June 2, 2020 @ 1:34 pm

    Used to call it a brook. Born in and lived in New Hampshire, USA until I was 8, where I learned that term. Since moving to Minnesota at 8 years old, I switched fairly quickly to creek, which I would still use today. Interestingly, I made that change, but did not make the soda > pop change, nor change my 'rag/bag/flag' vowel to fit the Minnesota style.

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