I’ve been focused on words this week, in one post you’ve seen and others I’ve written but not yet posted. Then a friend of mine led me to this little gem, the obituary of a woman who worked for the English Place-Name Society. That such a thing exists enchants me.
Which then reminded me of this. It combines three subjects that get me wound up: words, history, and maps. Derek Watkins, a graduate student studying geography, cartography, and things I can’t even pretend to understand, created this wonderful map that shows how terms for creek—branch, run, fork, brook, kill, stream, bayou, swamp, slough, wash, cañada, arroyo, rio—vary by region.
Toponyms, or the names given to places, carry cultural information in their etymology and patterns of use. … Lime green bayous follow historical French settlement patterns along the Gulf Coast and up Louisiana streams. The distribution of the Dutch-derived term kill (dark blue) in New York echoes the colonial settlement of “New Netherland” (as well as furnishing half of a specific toponym to the Catskill Mountains). Similarly, the Spanish-derived terms rio, arroyo, and cañada (orange hues) trace the early advances of conquistadors into present-day northern New Mexico, an area that still retains some unique cultural traits.
Fascinating stuff, no? What do you call a creek where you live?
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