Grammar

Creek or Crick? Sometimes, They’re the Same Thing!

Is that little stream a creek or crick? I thought I knew the obviously simple answer, but I’ve realized it’s not quite the way I thought it was.

On the surface, the words creek and crick have two distinct meanings.

A creek is a stream or brook, a small body of water that flows from a larger body of water like a river.

A crick, meanwhile, is that odd little spasm one feels at various places, particularly one’s back or neck.

While most people only pronounce crick the way it is spelled, some pronounce creek, the body of water, as “creek” or “crick.” While I’m familiar with that alternate pronunciation, I always thought it was a Southern thing. Though I’ve always pronounced creek as “creek,” I’ve heard plenty of people in the South pronounce it “crick.”

Field & Stream’s website took up the question of whether it should be creek or crick and a commenter from Texas put it this way:

… If you have to jump across it, it’s a “crick.”
If you have to wade across it, it’s a “creek.” …

I doubt seriously that anyone makes that much effort to distinguish between the two: I think that you either say one or the other, depending on where you grew up.

However, the fact that a Texan gave that explanation certainly backed up my assumption that “crick” for creek was a 100% Southern phenomenon.

But recently, I listened to a 2000 interview with retired Price is Right host Bob Barker in which he talked about growing up during the Great Depression on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Mission, Sorth Dakota. He recalled for EmmyTVLegends.org his childhood there, and mentioned this:

It was wonderful growing up there. It was wonderful. Just down below the town was the Antelope Crick, not the creek, the crick.

South Dakota, despite the word South, is nearly as far north as you can get in this country. So what’s a Southern regionalization like “crick” for creek doing there?

I’m told that people as far north as Wisconsin have grown up with the “crick” pronunciation. They’re adamant that “crick” is perfectly acceptable for creek. Good luck trying to convince them otherwise.

So you’ll just have to be aware of the fact that even though people seem to spell that body of water as “creek,” it may or may not be pronounced the way it’s spelled.

What do you call that little stream: a creek or crick? Does the pronunciation change for you depending on how large the stream is?

6 Comments

  1. Crick is actually the Scots word for a small stream. It is not a mispronunciation. It is a dialectical variant, any place with a history of Scottish immigrants.

  2. Almost the same as what the Texan wrote I was taught that a crick dried up in the summer and was smaller than a creek, and after Creek you then have a river.

  3. I found the plugin was causing some big delays in page loading, so I suspended it until I can figure out what the issue is. I Iike the idea, but not if it’s going to make the page slow to load. 🙁 I’ll keep looking to see if I can find one that does it better, though.

  4. No, I haven’t found ’em to be the same… I love walking through the woods to dip my feet in a crick; but if I look down at the water rushing by too long, I get a painful creek in my neck.
    No?
    .

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.