Word Nerd: Up a Creak

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Today’s Word Nerd is not a terribly common one, though it pops up from time to time. Maybe it’s due to autocorrect, or maybe it’s apathy, but it’s one I’ve seen a few times online, usually in the form of people talking about “hearing the door creek” or “fishing in the creak.” Once again, we’re in the land of homophones (words that sound the same), or heterographs (same-sounding words that are spelled differently) if you think “homophones” sounds like something controversial.

Creak: To make a sharp, harsh, grating, or squeaking sound.

Creek: A stream smaller than a river.

creekyCreak first appears around 1300, from the Middle English creken, meaning “to croak.” This apparently devolves from the Old English cracettan, “to croak.”

Creek dates from the mid-15th Century, where it started out as creke, meaning “narrow inlet in a coastline,” which was altered from the early 13th Century kryk, which is probably from the Old Norse kriki “corner, nook.” Creek is possible influenced by the Anglo-French crique, which is itself from a Scandinavian source via Norman. Perhaps it is ultimately related to crook from the thought that creeks are “full of bends and turns” (in one Swedish dialect, krik means both “corner or bend” and “creek or cove.”

If you say someone is up the creak, you’re saying that they’re in a loud noise.

If you say you hear your bones creek, you’re saying there’s a stream flowing inside you.

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