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I Say Brook, You Say Bayou
September 3, 2011 4:43 PM   Subscribe

The many names for streams in north america and in the UK. Wikipedia's take.
posted by stp123 (82 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is super-cool. Thanks!
posted by grouse at 4:52 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The UK map is confused as it mostly maps terminology for rivers not streams.

Most streams around my end are called becks, a word which appears to have had no play in the US.
posted by Jehan at 5:05 PM on September 3, 2011


I'm surprised that they don't have "creek" on the N.A. map.
posted by NoMich at 5:16 PM on September 3, 2011


I'm surprised that they don't have "creek" on the N.A. map.

They do.

"*River and creek are the most common stream names in the United States, and appear as shades of gray on this map."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:19 PM on September 3, 2011


I say River, you say Pond.

yes, I know it doesn't make sense, but what in Doctor Who ever does?
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:23 PM on September 3, 2011 [13 favorites]


Not that I can find an example now (boo), but there's also a tendency in the UK for streams that have been consecutively named by different conquerers (once you translate all the component parts) to "stream stream stream stream." or "the river bank at the bank of the river"

I need to do more research on this.
posted by seanyboy at 5:23 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is incredibly fascinating to me. There is a dry creek bed named "Cook's Slough" near where I grew up. My mother, who had grown up in West Virginia, taught me that it was pronounced "slew". I always wondered how a name like that had gotten to West Texas. Interesting to see that it has a distribution across the U.S.

I am glad to see that authors mention the interplay of culture and geography. Those names aren't just regional preferences like "soda" versus "pop". There are meaningful, if sometimes subtle, differences between the things they describe.

"Kill" is one I am not familiar with, though I've heard of Fresh Kills, NY. Would I be right in guessing that's an old Scottish term? Or egads, maybe a perversion of French...
posted by Xoebe at 5:26 PM on September 3, 2011


Yeah, it's missing creek. Also, arroyo, wash and canyon (cañon - cañada) aren't synonyms for "stream" in the Southwest - they're in a totally different class of watershed feature. They're seasonal and only wet when flooding during rains or monsoon seasons.

For example, an arroyo can have a stream inside of it. The arroyo may be much larger than the year-round trickle of a small stream. The dry, carved up walls of an arroyo indicates much higher flood activity in the (geologically) recent past, but it's still an arroyo whether or not it currently has water in it, but doesn't stop becoming an arroyo if there's a smaller year-round stream.

Year-round small watershed features in the Southwest are commonly simply just called streams or creeks. You don't generally find proper arroyos or washes in riparian environments, as found in the Sierra Nevada mountains. You find streams and creeks. Arroyos (and canyons/washes) are mainly found in desert or chaparral biomes - but obviously these biomes are heavily blended and overlapping in the Southwest.

So, I'm kind of wondering who this guy polled or asked about the Southwest, particularly Southern California - because it doesn't sound like they're locals.
posted by loquacious at 5:27 PM on September 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Aha! I went and looked it up. They aren't called the Pennsylvania Scots.
posted by Xoebe at 5:29 PM on September 3, 2011


He didn't ask anyone; these are based on name and hydrology databases. Many of the names are more specific than "creek" (eg slough); he converses with some of his commenters about it. The map shows both differences in terminology and differences in geography, really.
posted by hattifattener at 5:30 PM on September 3, 2011


More importantly, I surprised they didn't tackle the enormous elephant in the room: the creek/crick divide in the US.

Then again, not everyone enjoys tackling elephants
posted by Panjandrum at 5:32 PM on September 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


loquacious, I would guess that the authors used official names - you know, the ones you see on the sign on the bridge when you drive over it.

Sycamore Creek in West Texas frequently doesn't have any visible water in it at all. And it's missing Barranca, widely used in Southern California, but that may be an outlier term or describe a feature too small to merit mapping.
posted by Xoebe at 5:32 PM on September 3, 2011


One thing this methodology misses is names like "Schuylkill River". This was originally called just "Schuylkill", which means something like "hidden river" in Dutch, but I guess English speakers didn't know what that meant.

(By the way, in Philadelphian, that's pronounced "skoo-kill".)
posted by madcaptenor at 5:35 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"the ones you see on the sign on the bridge"

I should clarify, I am not being snarky, flippant, or snotty - it's just that those official names frequently don't look to me like correct names. What's called a river in Southern California frequently would be called a creek in Texas, and a river in Texas would be called a creek in North Carolina. Generally, I think of rivers as having water in them. The ones in Southern California do, but you get a years worth in three months, then the rest of the year, dry.
posted by Xoebe at 5:36 PM on September 3, 2011


Oh, idea for a hydronym map in English: So-and-so River versus River So-and-so.
posted by Jehan at 5:46 PM on September 3, 2011


"Winterbourne". Love that word. That is all.
posted by Leon at 5:46 PM on September 3, 2011


Jehan: my impression was that "So-and-so River" is American and "River So-and-so" is British. Is it more complicated than that?
posted by madcaptenor at 5:47 PM on September 3, 2011


I guess the most obvious question is "what do they say in Canada?", since Canadian English shows some similarities to both American English and British English. I'll stop thinking out loud now.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:50 PM on September 3, 2011


This is really cool, I just wish you could zoom in to see specific streams. I wonder how hard it would be to do this with bodies of standing water; pond, lake, basin, reservoir, tank, pool, hole, and so on.
posted by TedW at 5:52 PM on September 3, 2011


This is neat, thanks!
posted by carter at 5:53 PM on September 3, 2011


English-speakers have fifty words for bodies of water, so bodies of water must be very important to them.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:55 PM on September 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


I guess the most obvious question is "what do they say in Canada?", since Canadian English shows some similarities to both American English and British English. I'll stop thinking out loud now.

We say "So-and-so River."

actually we say "So-and-so River right by the Beaver & Moose & Tommy Douglas poutine stand, eh"

"Sorry"

posted by saturday_morning at 6:04 PM on September 3, 2011


Jehan: my impression was that "So-and-so River" is American and "River So-and-so" is British. Is it more complicated than that?

Well, that's boring.

Can I still have a map?
posted by Jehan at 6:08 PM on September 3, 2011


No rill?
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:12 PM on September 3, 2011


Then again, not everyone enjoys tackling elephants
posted by Panjandrum at 8:32 PM

And how an elephant got into Panjandrum's comment I'll never know.
posted by hal9k at 6:14 PM on September 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Beautiful railway bridge of the silv'ry Tay
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last sabbath day of 1879
Which shall be remembered for a very long time.

posted by jenkinsEar at 6:18 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Kill" is one I am not familiar with, though I've heard of Fresh Kills, NY. Would I be right in guessing that's an old Scottish term? Or egads, maybe a perversion of French...
No, it's Dutch. It's not terribly uncommon in what used to be New Netherlands. For example, Staten Island (which is where "Fresh Kills" that you mention is located) is bounded (in part) by the Arthur Kill and the Kill Van Kull. There's the Schuykill River in PA. Walkill River in NY/NJ. Probably others.
posted by Flunkie at 6:20 PM on September 3, 2011


I used to live near the Murderkill in Delaware. Pretty close to Slaughter Beach, the main thoroughfare to which is Slaughter Neck.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:23 PM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, people in (vaguely) coastal Virginia and the Carolinas, who apparently refer to many of these as "swamps": What term do you use for the things that the rest of us call "swamps"?
posted by Flunkie at 6:23 PM on September 3, 2011


I've never heard anyone call a stream a "branch" or a "run" around Maryland.
posted by zephyr_words at 6:24 PM on September 3, 2011


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: "I used to live near the Murderkill in Delaware. Pretty close to Slaughter Beach, the main thoroughfare to which is Slaughter Neck."

Next time I meet Sgt. Slaughter, I'll have to ask him if he's of the Delaware Slaughters.
posted by Copronymus at 6:26 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never heard anyone call a stream a "branch" or a "run" around Maryland.
There's apparently a bunch of them.
posted by Flunkie at 6:29 PM on September 3, 2011


So I guess the Rio Grande has got to be the biggest non-grey one on the map. What are some of the other relatively big ones?
posted by Flunkie at 6:32 PM on September 3, 2011


In Canada it's generally 'creek' in the mountain west, whereas streams of comparable size in say Ontario are just called rivers, and it's ruisseau in Quebec, but 'slough' (slew) I've only heard on the prairies. I've always taken it to mean a depression in the grassland that might only hold water in the rainy season; other times it's just a ditch with some reeds in it - not really a moving body of water.
posted by Flashman at 6:37 PM on September 3, 2011


Something like this for street / road / avenue / turnpike / way / lane / terrace / etc. might be interesting.
posted by Flunkie at 6:52 PM on September 3, 2011


When I got to North Dakota, I was taken on a tour of the city where I was interviewing. The woman spent an hour pointing about different coulees and the flood walls and the river and the greenway and the whole time I just kind of smiled tightly and nodded. Finally at the end of the hour I asked her, "What on earth is a coulee?"

Now I know. Being from Southern California, I'd either call it a 'crick' or a 'rio' depending on who I was talking to and what I was referring to and what time of year it was, but here in North Dakota they call 'em coulees.

It's not represented on the map linked here, of course, though I did look.
posted by librarylis at 6:55 PM on September 3, 2011


Yeah, in the PNW sloughs are typically not fast-moving water like a creek is. Often they're a cut-off oxbow or something like that. I don't think the word usually refers to intermittent/seasonal streams, though.
posted by hattifattener at 6:58 PM on September 3, 2011


Creek in the US is a stream or river, but in the UK it's a small tidal estuary - where a stream meets the sea (or a tidal confluence). Don't know which sort you get up without a paddle.
posted by Devonian at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2011


Beautiful railway bridge of the silv'ry Tay
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last sabbath day of 1879
Which shall be remembered for a very long time.


Oh! Oh! I know this one! It's William the Gonnagle William McGonagall, "poet and tragedian of Dundee, ... widely hailed as the writer of the worst poetry in the English language," and his immortally bad poem, "The Tay Bridge Disaster."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:04 PM on September 3, 2011


Flunkie: "So, people in (vaguely) coastal Virginia and the Carolinas, who apparently refer to many of these as "swamps": What term do you use for the things that the rest of us call "swamps"?"

In Texas swamps can be called bayous. Rivers and creeks can also be called bayous.

Canada will frequently put "Lake" at the front of a name (Lake Chilliwack), but "River" is usually after the name (Vedder River).

I always think of creeks as smaller bodies of water and rivers larger.
posted by deborah at 7:05 PM on September 3, 2011


Fun fact: A brook is the only thing that babbles. And burbles. You might think other things do too but you would be wrong.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:29 PM on September 3, 2011


Sometimes my stomach burbles. Is my stomach a brook?
posted by madcaptenor at 7:32 PM on September 3, 2011


I would say in western Washington state it would be exceedingly uncommon for a moving body of water to not be a creek or a river. A very slow moving body , especially a tidal one, might get the label "slough," though sometimes that's used as an insult, as in "Sammamish Slough," a derisive local reference to the Sammamish River--entirely Corp-of-Engineered, and which has the charm of a drainage ditch.
posted by maxwelton at 7:51 PM on September 3, 2011


Confusion over the word "kill" has led to some amusing results.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:53 PM on September 3, 2011


Now I know. Being from Southern California, I'd either call it a 'crick'

Okay...

So, when I was a kid growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I was told that "pop" and "crick" were specific to our region. Then I moved to Ohio (and later Iowa) and realized that "pop" was used pretty much everywhere north of the Mason Dixon line and not on a coast. Then I saw an episode of King of Queens (shut up) where the improbably hot wife of a fat UPS guy said "crick", and now I'm hearing that Southern Californians are using "crick", and now I don't know what's going on in my life. Does the Pittsburgh area have anything unique besides the Mr. Rogers accent and putting french fries on sandwiches (which I didn't even know about until I moved away)?!?!

I am unmoored.

(Gumbands! Do you say "gumband" instead of "rubber band"? I need something!)
posted by dirigibleman at 7:59 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jehan: my impression was that "So-and-so River" is American and "River So-and-so" is British. Is it more complicated than that?

I think that's correct for the most part, though we do have the River Raisin in my home state of Michigan.
posted by dhens at 8:01 PM on September 3, 2011


So here in Pennsylvania, we seem to use both "creek" and "run" to refer to streams but sometimes "run" refers to the valley and not the stream itself. Also creek is definitely pronounced "crick" by most people.
posted by octothorpe at 8:03 PM on September 3, 2011


More importantly, I surprised they didn't tackle the enormous elephant in the room: the creek/crick divide in the US.

If you're interested, he makes a comment about it in the comments section (Aug. 26).
posted by BlooPen at 8:04 PM on September 3, 2011


In the US, they're called Cricks; in Britain they're called Watsons.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:14 PM on September 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually I just checked Snopes, and the US and Britain have both. Watsons flow antiparallel to Cricks.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:04 PM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I've never heard anyone call a stream a 'branch' or a 'run' around Maryland."

Really? I grew up in Maryland next to tons of branches. The ones I used to play in were Northwest Branch and Paint Branch.

Of course, "branch" would be a branch of a larger river.

When I went to college in the midwest everybody thought I was talking about really big trees.

And "run"? You never heard of Bull Run across the Potomac in Virginia?

Of course, us Yankees named Civil War battles after topographic features like rivers usually, why the country boys in the CSA were more fascinated by cities and towns as names for battles ("Battles of First and Second Manassas").

Also, DC-area American English is definitely on the "creek" side of things.
posted by bardic at 9:08 PM on September 3, 2011


Creek or crick? Wisconsin edition. I'm from Chicago, but grew up here in Wisconsin, where practically everyone says "crick". (Does anyone have an isogloss map?) Eventually I began saying it myself, despite my internal impression that it was sort of a backwoods dialect thing.

"So-and-so River" is American and "River So-and-so" is British.

Actually, I think it's more common for Brits to just use the name, e.g. "the Thames", "the Tay", "the Severn". That usage in the US is reserved for only the great rivers, "the Mississippi", "the Ohio", etc. Then again, a lot of US rivers have names actually in common with other geographical features or regions, such as the Wisconsin River, which I don't think I've ever heard called (outside of a list of other rivers) "the Wisconsin". UK river names tend to be incorporated into place names in more descriptive fashion, e.g. Stratford-upon-Avon.

The US naming convention is also strongly influenced by deliberate policy of the Board of Geographic Names of the USGS.

A local example of this dichotomy is Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; about 15-20 years back they formally renamed the body of water Geneva Lake, to reduce confusion, but outside of official sources you hardly ever hear that.
posted by dhartung at 9:09 PM on September 3, 2011


Also in Michigan: the River Rouge and the River Styx. From Category:Rivers of Michigan at Wikipedia. The first is a French name, like Raisin; the second is presumably named after the mythological river, although there's a Styx River in Alabama.

The only other rivers with Wikipedia articles I found that have names where "River" come first are (although I wasn't systematic and didn't look at every state, and I was only looking at the category listings and sometimes there are subcategories, so this is really just a sample):

- the River de Chute in eastern Maine, which flows into New Brunswick;
- if these count, rivers of the form "Rio X" mostly in New Mexico. (The Rio Grande is the obvious one but not the only one.)

I'm guessing that the French-named rivers (Raisin, Rouge, de Chute) were originally called rivière (which the French wikipedia article says is used only for tributaries, not for rivers that flow into a sea or ocean, which are called fleuve) and "rivière" got corrupted to "river"; "rio" doesn't sound quite as much like any English word and so was more likely to survive intact.

(IANAL)
posted by madcaptenor at 9:10 PM on September 3, 2011


Then again, a lot of US rivers have names actually in common with other geographical features or regions, such as the Wisconsin River, which I don't think I've ever heard called (outside of a list of other rivers) "the Wisconsin"

But not all rivers that share names with states work this way. "the Delaware" (as in "Washington crossing the Delaware") or "the Connecticut" sound perfectly normal to me.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:12 PM on September 3, 2011


Wow, I knew run was pretty specific to the mid-Atlantic, but this really drives the point home.
posted by killdevil at 9:19 PM on September 3, 2011


Xoebe said: "loquacious, I would guess that the authors used official names - you know, the ones you see on the sign on the bridge when you drive over it."

Ah, I missed that bridge, thanks! I went and assumed it was a poll like the soda vs pop thing. (I didn't think you were being snarky at all, no worries. And even if you were or wanted to be - Oh god, not sarcasm and snark! *trembles and cowers* ;P )

Ok, so in the sense of "official" names as the map lies, well, that makes sense.

As I understand it - the Western and Southwestern US has a long history of non-locals from some tiny little swamp back East called D and/or C or something or other runnin' around and naming stuff without ever even visiting the place they're drawing up maps for. Or, you know, going with the data sets they had from field surveyors, sketches and word of mouth.

I wonder how much of the naming conventions were A) the cartographer and/or geographers own linguistic background or B) Simply misapplied because either the data or taxonomic system wasn't refined enough to make distinctions.

I should clarify and confirm we do officially use the term arroyo (even correctly) on official signage in large quantities. Hell. I was technically born in a cañada. Not far from an arroyo.

But we also officially use creek, river and stream in large quantities, as shown on the map. I guess the stupidly fine point I'm trying to make is that an arroyo or canyon isn't a stream - just like the Colorado River isn't the Grand Canyon. They aren't true synonyms.

It's just a particular kind of geographic feature that contains a stream. I suppose the reason why I feel the distinction is culturally important is because arroyos, washes and canyons are much more dangerous or difficult to cross or ford, while a stream in a slough or meadow is less geographically challenging and aggressive. Like swamps and such it's a really important data point on a map, especially if you don't have good topo data or local knowledge.

Come to think of it I think, with just a few exceptions most of the (relatively) dangerous things that have ever happened to me in the deserts in the southwest have mainly happened in arroyos. Broken bikes, turned ankles, dehydration, cactus spines, near encounters with rattlesnakes or scorpions, coyote encounters, dying of dysentery... that kind of thing.
posted by loquacious at 9:23 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Confusion over the word "kill" has led to some amusing results.

I sometimes think that part of basic English instruction should be some sustained focus on the multiple strands of English etymology, so that people understand just how exotic the origins of some completely naturalized words are. That the English "kill" ≠ the Dutch "kill" is one of the funniest sources of confusion, yes, but I also remember once in an online thread some women kvetching on and on about "what the hell is 'men" doing in 'menstruation'! Our word!" until I pointed out that the "mens" part comes from the Latin for "month", so that for instance, in French, my Montreal monthly bus pass is called "une carte mensuelle"...
posted by Philofacts at 9:27 PM on September 3, 2011


Add me to the chorus that is picking the nit that many of these are not synonyms. Arroyos, for example, are seasonal as I have understood the term (much like a wadi in Africa/the Middle East). A slough tends to be slow water, a branch tends to be synonymous with a fork, a rio is big water, and a bayou is basically an open water swamp. As fun as it is to imagine that these show interesting differences in regional vernacular, the point is obscured when so few of the terms are actually parallel to each other.
posted by norm at 9:28 PM on September 3, 2011


Or to make the point based on the post title, a brook and a bayou are synonymous in no known universes.
posted by norm at 9:30 PM on September 3, 2011


Oh, another thing... I'm not sure what his threshold or metric is but there are a lot more arroyos (arroyo?) in California than indicated. So maybe he's only counting the really big ones, but even if he is I think he's still missing some.

I do think I see the huge Arroyo Seco where the Rose Bowl is on the edge of Pasadena. It's the mostly vertical, slightly S shaped squiggle just to the NE of where Downtown LA is.
posted by loquacious at 9:30 PM on September 3, 2011


They're all rivulets here in Tasmania. Creeks in the rest of Australia.
posted by Jimbob at 9:33 PM on September 3, 2011


a lot more arroyos (arroyo?)

arroyo is Spanish, and takes an s to form its plural. It's like one burrito, two burritos.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:36 PM on September 3, 2011


"So-and-so River" is American and "River So-and-so" is British.

This isn't actually so in the UK. I used to live next to the Cuckmere River, in East Sussex, and I can think of other examples throughout Britain. Not only that but the rule of referring to the 'big' rivers like the Thames or Avon as "River ..." is sometimes forgotten, conversationally at least. Or maybe there's just a point on their course where they get small enough for the title to be reversed - e.g. the Thames through London and the Thames 70 miles upstream in Oxford.
posted by Flashman at 9:42 PM on September 3, 2011


There's a dialect term 'rindle' which pops up in a few places in the North Midlands and Cheshire (where I heard it).
posted by Abiezer at 10:25 PM on September 3, 2011


Hmm. I appear to live in a blacked out area. But then again, it's all creek to me.

(I am so sorry. I couldn't help it)
posted by mcmile at 11:26 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the map is showing the geographical distribution of names for flowing water. That doesn't make them synonyms. Notice there are no names for pond, lake, lac, or what-have-you.
Growing up in northern West Virginia, I knew of "runs", "forks", "rivers" and "creeks". A good portion of the rivers were just called "The West Fork" or "The Middle Fork".
As a grade school student, I was taught that "crick" was NOT the way to pronounce creek; it made one sound like an uneducated Hillbilly.
At first it looked like "run" is a southern Appalachian thing, stopping when it reaches New York / New England. It's kind of hard to see south of central West Virginia, but "run" seems to follow the hills down to northern Alabama. But then I noticed that it gets used in Ohio, too. So who knows?
posted by frodisaur at 11:34 PM on September 3, 2011


So here in Pennsylvania, we seem to use both "creek" and "run" to refer to streams but sometimes "run" refers to the valley and not the stream itself. Also creek is definitely pronounced "crick" by most people.

Philadelphia raised, I can confirm the use of crick.
posted by scalefree at 1:48 AM on September 4, 2011


> So, people in (vaguely) coastal Virginia and the Carolinas, who apparently refer to many of these as "swamps": What term do you use for the things that the rest of us call "swamps"?

Swamps. All the terms listed aren't synonymous. Some the distribution depends on geography rather than language and dialect. There are a lot swamps in the coastal plains of the Southeast where it's flat and wet, and a lot of arroyos and washes in the Southwest where it's dry. There are areas of the Southeast though where a lot of swamps are called bayous, and areas of the Southwest where arroyos are called washes. (At least I assume the last two are synonymous.)

I'm a bit curious about the distribution of other terms as well. I live in Charlottesville near the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Locally, a "hollow" is a narrow valley, usually formed by a stream and open only on one end. A "cove" is wider and usually open on more than one side. "Valley" is only used to refer to the Shenandoah Valley (locally just called "the Valley.") I only learned "cove" as a name for type of valley when I moved here.
posted by nangar at 3:04 AM on September 4, 2011


I have a bunch of relatives who live by the banks of the North Branch of the White River in Vermont. The North Branch would be called a brook most places (last month excepted; it made islands of a couple of their house lots.)

New York State is thick with Kills. That article Philofacts linked to is just more evidence that PETA doesn't care what aspect of reality they trample in their rush to make some kind of point. It's also really badly written, but that's CNN for you.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:00 AM on September 4, 2011


There is a stream in Australia called Cock Wash.

not quite right
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:42 AM on September 4, 2011


dirigibleman Does the Pittsburgh area have anything unique besides the Mr. Rogers accent and putting french fries on sandwiches ?!?!

That's called a Chip Butty.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 5:04 AM on September 4, 2011


Actually, I think it's more common for Brits to just use the name, e.g. "the Thames", "the Tay", "the Severn". That usage in the US is reserved for only the great rivers, "the Mississippi", "the Ohio", etc. Then again, a lot of US rivers have names actually in common with other geographical features or regions, such as the Wisconsin River, which I don't think I've ever heard called (outside of a list of other rivers) "the Wisconsin". UK river names tend to be incorporated into place names in more descriptive fashion, e.g. Stratford-upon-Avon.

Avon is Welsh and just means river. Just to mess things up even more. That there are many river avons is just the British love of a silly joke.
posted by srboisvert at 6:41 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Avon is Welsh and just means river. Just to mess things up even more. That there are many river avons is just the British love of a silly joke.

It's popularly thought to be the result of a misunderstanding between the Romans and the natives:

Roman: See here my man, what's the name of that river?
Interpreter (consulting phrasebook): What .. call .. you .. this?
Briton: Yer what? It's a river, mate, innit?
Roman: What did he say?
Interpreter: Not sure, sir, but I think I caught the word 'Avon'.
Roman (writing on tablet): Very good, the River Avon it is, then.

What's really interesting is the difference between becks, brooks and burns. 'Beck' is a Danish word (from Old Norse 'bekkr'), 'brook' is an English word (from Old English 'broc'), and 'burn' is a bit of both (Old English 'burna' reinforced by Old Norse 'brunnr'), so between them they practically give you a map of the Viking invasion.
posted by verstegan at 7:44 AM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Roman: See here my man, what's the name of that river?
Interpreter (consulting phrasebook): What .. call .. you .. this?
Briton: Yer what? It's a river, mate, innit?
Roman: What did he say?
Interpreter: Not sure, sir, but I think I caught the word 'Avon'.
Roman (writing on tablet): Very good, the River Avon it is, then.


That's funny, because that's supposedly how Canada got its name. ("Kanata" apparently meant village.)
posted by evilcolonel at 8:11 AM on September 4, 2011


just west of where i live is a town called 'carol stream.' it's principal watercourse is a creek called klein creek. there is no body of water in carol stream called 'carol stream'.
posted by lester at 8:11 AM on September 4, 2011


Carol Stream is apparently the name of a person (first and last name) who the town was named after, being the daughter of the developer who built the town, Jay Stream.
posted by Flunkie at 8:37 AM on September 4, 2011


John Stilgoe's little book Shallow Water Dictionary goes into the problem of naming streams a little in the course of looking at the sort of jargon that used to exist around water that's largely been lost. Worth looking at if you're interested in this . . .
posted by with hidden noise at 11:55 AM on September 4, 2011


I'm surprised that UK map uses "Afon" at all. All the "rivers" in Wales are "afon" if you speak Welsh, but then so are all the rivers in England (some still have Welsh names, too: Tafwys is the Thames, for instance).

It'd be interesting to see how the UK map compilers decided on which Welsh rivers to colour blue and red. The "rivers" seem to roughly coincide with Welsh counties where the English name comes above the Welsh on roadsigns (between Swansea and Gwent) but no English speaker would favour "Afon Dyfrdwy" (marked in purple on the map) over the "River Dee", unless they were going out of their way to be right-on.

Welsh rivers are either referred to in the form "Afon Teifi" (never the other way round) or just "Teifi". There's no definite article there in standard Welsh, although it seems to be creeping in, presumably under the influence of English usage.
posted by ceiriog at 12:05 PM on September 4, 2011


which Welsh rivers to colour blue and red

Purple and blue, duh.
posted by ceiriog at 12:06 PM on September 4, 2011


Actually, I think it's more common for Brits to just use the name, e.g. "the Thames", "the Tay", "the Severn". That usage in the US is reserved for only the great rivers, "the Mississippi", "the Ohio", etc.

But... relative to Great Britain, the Thames and the Severn are the great rivers.

Still, that's a purely lighthearted jab at your examples, because I'd refer to "the Cam", which isn't a great river by any standard.
posted by Slyfen at 2:21 PM on September 4, 2011


Actually, I think it's more common for Brits to just use the name, e.g. "the Thames", "the Tay", "the Severn". That usage in the US is reserved for only the great rivers, "the Mississippi", "the Ohio", etc.
But... relative to Great Britain, the Thames and the Severn are the great rivers.
That's true, and also I'm not really sure that the US portion is correct either.

I can think of several vaguely local rivers in my part of the USA which are commonly called "the Somthingorother". Though some of them are significantly larger than things like the Thames, the Tay, and the Severn, not all of them are, and in any case none of them are considered by the typical American to be among "the great rivers" (in the sense of the Mississippi or the Ohio). Some of them, the typical American from outside of my area will have never even heard of.
posted by Flunkie at 2:58 PM on September 4, 2011


verstegan: "It's popularly thought to be the result of a misunderstanding between the Romans and the natives:"

Pretty likely that these sorts of stories are urban legends.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:40 AM on September 9, 2011


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