Lesson #278: God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise

“God willing and the creek don’t rise” might be my favourite expression of all time though I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone use it in real life. This came up for a reason today.

Because we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like with his job keeping him out of town quite a lot, my best friend tends to call me during the week just to check in.* Tonight, he was telling me about how the way he knew he was really stressed out is that he drove 45 minutes to work this morning with country music on the radio. He *hates* country music. Then, of course, it got into me making fun of him and the fact that his line of demarcation for what is south and what is not is whether or not you can get boiled peanuts.** Then, somehow, we got onto southern-isms even though my experience with living in the south was more like living on another planet and his experience with living in the south was going to visit his parents in Florida on breaks from prep school/college. This led us to “God willing and the creek don’t rise.” Naturally.

There is not a lot of good (read: reliable) information on the expression, but here’s what I could find:

The first known appearance of the expression is attributed to the late 18th/early 19th General Superintendent for Indian Affairs, Benjamin Hawkins in response to a Presidential request to return to Washington during his time in the south. Hawkins capitalized the word Creek leading to speculation that he was referring to the Creek (Muscogee) people, who were native to the area and not a body of water.

The speculation that Hawkins was referring to the people, not the water isn’t actually far-fetched given that a. Hawkins was the principal agent to the Creek tribe, b. the Creek would periodically send raiding parties to trading posts and c. Hawkins was well-educated and wouldn’t likely have made such a grammatical mistake.

You can read more (but not much) here, here and here. None of them are particularly reliable, but it’s the best I could do. Idiomatic expressions aren’t particularly well documented.

*And I can always tell how much he’s had to drink by how soon into the conversation he reminds me he loves me.

**I’ll refrain from repeating his assessment of boiled peanuts. It’s not a glowing review. I don’t like nuts (except pecans and cashews) so I’ve never had them and can, therefore, neither confirm nor refute his statement.

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