Creek is a word that has been transformed by the North American continent. The British usage of the term was its first meaning here, and this definition still applies along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Maine: a saltwater inlet narrower than a cove; the estuary of a stream. But as settlement probed inland beyond the coastal plain, following watercourses upstream well past the influence of salt and tides, the word creek held on for any flow smaller than a river, even when the water in question eventually became a clear, leaping Appalachian stream narrow enough to step across. In a few places, though, a distinction was retained. M. Schele DeVere, in his 1872 Americanisms: The English of the New World, put it succinctly: “The kill of New York is a brook in New England, a run in Virginia, and alas! a crick or creek, almost everywhere else.”

Charles Frazier