Talk:Lord willing and the creek don't rise

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Origin of phrase[edit]

The idea, espoused below, that the remark should be attributed to Benjamin Hawkins is patently ridiculous. If you read the history attached to the citation, you'll see that Hawkins was devoted to the Creek. He married his common-law Creek wife on his death bed. The Creek were at peace during most of Hawkins' tenure as Superintendent of the Tribes of the Ohio River. Although there was an uprising by the Red Sticks, part of the Creek nation, Hawkins would not have referred to them generically as Creek because he was trying to protect the Creek nation from being penalized for the actions of the Red Sticks.

Despite what M-W says, the remark was first said by Benjamin Hawkins, q.v., and the phrase should be correctly written as 'God willing and the Creek don't rise'. Hawkins, college-educated and a well-written man would never have made a grammatical error[*], so the capitalization of Creek is the only way the phrase could make sense. He wrote it in response to a request from the President to return to our Nation's Capital and the reference is not to a creek, but The Creek Indian Nation. If the Creek "rose", Hawkins would have to be present to quell the rebellion. I believe that the phrase is somewhere in his preserved writings. 14:45, 15 July 2008 —This comment was unsigned. [*see 4 Nov. 2011 comment below. It is not a grammatical error.]

I've changed the etymology listed for this entry. My research indicates that this phrase actually has nothing to do with the Creek Native American tribe. Cite, from Merriam Webster.] 16:00, 14 November 2006 Msmitey —This comment was unsigned.

The cite you listed is broken but retrievable here: [1] —This comment was unsigned. 11:59, 10 February 2008

Please consider the alternative form God willing and the river don't rise before spreading the spurious folk etymology. DCDuring TALK 16:44, 17 June 2008 (UTC)

Meaning: With good luck and no major problems we can be successful

In the early 1800s there were 19 tribal groups of American Indians that joined together and formed the Creek Confederacy, which fought wars with the white settlers who wanted their lands.

They occupied what is now known as Alabama and Georgia. Therefor if the "Lord is willing and the Creek don't rise" up and start up another uprising or battle, we will be able complete what ever it is we intend to do. 06:39, 20 May 2008 Victoriaandvictoria —This comment was unsigned.

Whether it is "Creeks" or "creeks" would be equally plausible on hearing it. However, none of the mentions of this term that I found on spell "Creeks" or "Creek" with a capital. The alternative wordings involving "river" and "crick" are not consistent with the "Creeks" reading. Please provide evidence in the form of citations so we can seriously consider this.
I can find about 30 quotes for various forms of this, none of which are capitalized. I have yet to find a variant that refers to any other population of Native Americans. I have found the expression explicitly in use in South Carolina, where the Creeks were not. (my searches have been for "lord-willing-and-the", "lord-willin-and-the", "lord-willing-an-the", and "lord-willin-an-the") And please make your comments below one you are answering and sign it by typing: "~~~~" at the end of your comments. Registering makes it easier to leave user-specific messages and conveys other convenience benefits. DCDuring TALK 19:53, 15 July 2008 (UTC)

It strikes me as rather implausible that just because the speaker was college educated he mystically loses the ability to make a grammatical error.[*] Assuming the reference is to a body of water and not the Tribe, it sounds like a country saying and he may have been repeating the rustic version, complete with grammatical error. Liastnir 19:06, 12 December 2008 (UTC) [*See 4 Nov. 2011 comment. It is not a grammatical error, but correct usage of the subjunctive to express a desired state.]

certainly possible, but the main issue is whether the term has anything to do with native Americans. It's somewhat plausible, but not consistent with the alternative forms and the capitalisation by numerous users of the phrase. Our reasoning is based on inference from usage patterns. Someone's assertion without good authority or good argument is worth little. Etymology is beset with "folk etymologies" that are like urban legends. DCDuring TALK 01:29, 13 December 2008 (UTC)
It is also worth noting that norms for capitalization in English were quite different in the early 19th century. Capitalization was more fluid than modern convention allows, and common nouns could be capitalized in mid-sentence, simply to emphasize them. Even with capitalization faithfully preserved, a capitalized "Creek" from the 19th century does not necessarily mean it isn't referring to a waterway. --EncycloPetey 01:34, 13 December 2008 (UTC)

On first impression, like DCDuring, I was suspicious that the creek=indian tribe explanation was simply folk etymology. After looking for some hard evidence, however, I now believe it has some solid support.

Surprisingly, there appear to be no reliable references for this phrase's origin, at least none that I can find. The Merriam Webster reference cited above is no more than a blog, without citations to any authoritative source. Many sources on the web repeat the story that the phrase originated from Benjamin Hawkins, but none cites any source. Although some suggest the phrase appears in his published works, it is absent from the Google Books digitized copy of "The collected works of Benjamin Hawkins, 1796-1810‎."

I then searched Google Books for the earliest use of the phrase or a similar phrase. In an obscure 1908 publication from Alabama, I found the following:

"'if the Lord is willing and the creek don't fire,' we will so do".

Source: Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge Jurisdiction of Alabama, A:F & A: of Alabama at the Eighty Eighth Annual Communication held at Montgomery, Alabama, Brown Printing Co., Montgomery, Alabama (1908), page 232. .

This is the earliest published form of the phrase I could locate. Even though the word "creek" is not capitalized, it clearly refers to the indians, as streams do not "fire." Perhaps it also is significant that the source was printed in Alabama, where the Creek people were from.

Interestingly, the phrase "God willing and the creek don't rise" appears only to have become popular relatively recently. It doesn't appear in Google Books until the 1950s, where two works used it, and four times in the 1960s.

That is all the hard evidence I can find. There are two arguments I can think of which support Creek=indian tribe:

  • First, it makes the phrase grammatically correct. The "don't" is the correct verb for the (plural) Creek {people}.[**]

[**See comment at 4 Nov. 2011 -- It is also the correct form for third person singular subjunctive.]

  • Second, the phrase presently is understood as a cute folkism, using the incorrect plural verb "don't" for the singular subject "creek" (stream), or even substituting "crick". But it may be unlikely that such phrases originate as intentionally cute folkisms; if the word "creek" referred to the tribe, the phrase originated as an ordinary saying, and only later was invested with the folksy interpretation. Ecphora 01:40, 22 May 2009 (UTC)
Interesting. Good hunting! The cuteness is often a part of a self-consciously folksy sort of expression like this. I was certainly present in the related other forms below. I don't know if we can find anything written down about more "authentic" folk usage. Literate Southerners (like Freemasons?) seem to often take pride in these folk expressions. The "don't" thing would be part of that, because it has long been part of the regional UK dialects that scholars say have had so much influence on Southern US speech and, relatedly, on the "Afro-American Vernacular English" apparently mostly derived from it. The formula of "Lord/God willing and X" (where X is not a non-religious contingency) seems to have a much older history than the expression itself.
I would not object to having an entry for the Indian expression in capitals or as an additonal sense in this entry if we could have three quotes either in capitals or otherwise more consistent with the Creek interpretation (as your Freemason cite is). Obviously, the one with the earliest citations has temporal priority. The formula should also be mentioned, but I'm not sure that there is any one expression that is as widespread as this one, whatever its origins and whether or not it has changed from its original use. DCDuring TALK 02:12, 22 May 2009 (UTC)

"Miss Adeliah Anguish will have a party two-morrow [sic] week, if the creek don't rise." The Geneva Gazette, Geneva, NY, Friday, April 6, 1883 available online at Old Fulton NY Post Cards (

I was able to do some more research, mostly on, and I found the following early uses of the phrase:
  • “As Mr. Morrison puts it, ‘If the Lord is willing and the creeks don’t rise,’ the tariff battle will begin in the House to-day.” The Daily News, Frederick Maryland, Dec. 18, 1886, excerpted from the Baltimore Herald.
  • “Postmaster Clark says that ‘no preventing providence and the creeks don’t rise’ he will get into the new postoffice by the first of October.” Portsmouth Times, Portsmouth, Ohio, August 6, 1892.
  • “If the Lord is willing and the creeks are not up, you may count on me attending ...” Dallas Morning News. Sept 12, 1899.
  • “‘If the Lord is willing and the creeks don’t raise the undersigned will have a public vendue [sic]...’” Lancaster Daily Eagle, Lancaster, Ohio, Jan. 29, 1916.
Some of these significantly pre-date the Alabama Freemansons' quote and indicate that the phrase originally referred to streams. (I have found nothing other than that single quote to support the Benjamin Hawkins theory.) Interestingly, these early quotes all use "creeks" in the plural, so that the phrase was gramatically correct and not an intentionally cute folkism ("creek don't") as I doubted.

I suspect now that the creek=indian tribe is a later interpretation. Ecphora 23:01, 25 May 2009 (UTC)

Good information. I'm beginning to think that we should just always go with the less or least colorful etymology. We'd rarely be wrong. OTOH, if we wait a while we might get some contradictory evidence, but I'd bet against it. DCDuring TALK 23:40, 25 May 2009 (UTC)
You're absolutely right. In my experience, an etymology involving a catchy story is almost invariably invented. I would like to incorporate some of these quotes into the article, but I haven't done much editing on Wiktionary yet, and I'm not clear about accepted form. Ecphora 00:54, 26 May 2009 (UTC)
I recommend following the model I have inserted on the citations page. Only quotations with the exact wording should go on the main page. The quotations that are really close can go on the alternative forms section. Others can go on the related forms section. If we get three with the exact same new wording we should start a new entry for that new wording. Note that order doesn't matter when using any of the main citations templates as long as the "parameter name=content" format is used. Also note that I had to cheat to get the "excerpted from" into the template. DCDuring TALK 01:38, 26 May 2009 (UTC) 21:53, 11 May 2010 (UTC)See anyone stuck in the Nashville Flood of 2010 for reference on what this quote means. I believe it is a quite literal interpretation. Sometimes ole timers knew exactly what they were saying12.46.72.126 21:53, 11 May 2010 (UTC)

Of course the phrase contains a subversive spin by giving lip service to the unknowable hackneyed and resigned tautology that whatever happens is "the Lord's will" paired with the conditional practical and utterly mundane determinant which is beyond anyone's, and seemingly even the Lord's, control.

Re: Origin of phrase. The phrase "the creek don't rise" is proper use of the subjunctive.

It is a modern error to presume that "the creek don't rise" is a grammatical error, so the fact that a speaker in the past was college educated would not be an argument against his having used the phrase. Nor is grammar an argument in favor the the subject being plural.
As with the phrase from the Lord's prayer, "Thy will be done", the phrase "God willing and the creek don't rise" uses the subjunctive to express a sense of the desirability of the activity of the verb. The English subjunctive is constructed by using the same basic form of the verb used in the infinitive, without inflections to show the person or number of the subject.
Up to the introduction of MS Word, proper use of the subjunctive was still common among the educated and uneducated alike. Now, however, we have "educated" people writing such phrases as "it is necessary that he is there" when what they mean is, "it is necessary that he be there." Thanks to the combination of dropping the teaching of grammar from schools and the rise in reliance on word processing grammar checkers, we have a full generation of otherwise educated people who think when they encounter correct use of the subjunctive that they are witnessing a grammatical error.
There is a difference in meaning between "it is necessary that he be there" and "it is necessary that he is there": the former means that his being there (in the future) is a requirement, the latter means he is there, now, as a matter of necessity -- that is, it is impossible for him to be elsewhere. Similarly, if what you mean is that it is important to read the directions you would say, "it is important that she read the directions", NOT "it is important that she reads the directions." Again, the former expresses that the act of reading the directions is important. The second says that she is reading the directions and the fact that she is currently reading them is important. These mean different things.
Due to the creators of MS Word not understanding the subjunctive, and having designed the program to tell users that correct English is wrong, we've now got a critical mass of English speakers who have lost the ability to use the subjunctive or even accept its use. And an important distinction in meaning is being lost.

Kpl85 16:01, 4 November 2011 (UTC)

I think your conclusion that "[t]he phrase 'the creek don't rise' is proper use of the subjunctive," is in error. The word "does" or "do" in operative part of the phrase indicates that it's in the present negative indicative and not the subjunctive at all. And the phrase as a whole is not a statement of the desireability of the verb, it's a conditional. If it were the jussive or mandative subjunctive, you'd have to precede it with at laest an implied declarative content clause (or that-clause) expressing a circumstance that is desired, demanded, recommended, necessary, or similar; like, "It is desired that God be willing and the creek not [be] risen." But that's not how this phrase is used; it's invariably used simply to express a predictive condition. And while you can express such a condition in the subjunctive, e.g., "I'll go if God be willing and the creek be not risen," only a pirate would say that. And the pirate would have no use at all for the word "do." Expanding the contractions, correcting the grammar, and including the omitted words, what we rally have here is, "I'll go if God is willing and the creek does not rise," but with the wrong form of the verb "to do" (unless "creek" is plural).Jagcowan (talk) 20:00, 31 October 2012 (UTC)
Don't blame MS Word for the death of the subjunctive mood. First, few people actually use its grammar-wrecking feature (on account of it being nearly useless). Second, people have been saying "I wish I was" instead of "I wish I were" at least since my mother taught me the difference 30 years ago, when MS Word didn't even exist. Sorry, but the subjunctive disappeared from vernacular English a long time ago. - 01:06, 10 September 2012 (UTC)
Can we have some input from actual sources, rather than uninformed editorial speculation? It is already known that Hawkins was a diplomat with the Indians; a reference to rising water was clearly not his intentions. I have also heard elderly folklorists in the Georgia area explain that this is a reference to the Creek Indians.

There is no citation for a body of water at all. 21:31, 9 April 2012 (UTC)

I've yet to see any solid evidence Hawkins said or wrote any such thing. As others have noted, the supposed Hawkins letter containing the phrase is not included in his collection of letters. Michael Quinion identifies a couple of mid-19th century instances of the phrase at Hiernonymous (talk) 06:06, 28 September 2012 (UTC)

The capitalization of "Creek" may have nothing to do with the Creek Indian Nation, but rather, with English grammar convention at the time. During the time this phrase was first recorded, English grammar followed the same rules as German grammar, in which all nouns are capitalized (see the U.S. Constitution as an example of this convention). 22:50 October 2012 (UTC) —This comment was unsigned.


Since the original version had "Creek" capitalized, the Wicktionary version should be capitalized as well. Just because a Wicktionary article starts off in error, does not mean that error should be continued/replicated or even given "consensus" advantage. 21:34, 9 April 2012 (UTC)

 Er,replicate means 'fold back upon', not 'reproduce' nor 'duplicate.'
Show evidence of original capitalisation. In any case, we document real usage, and it's more commonly now written with lower case. Equinox 21:35, 9 April 2012 (UTC)

More alternative forms[edit]

  • 1753 July 14, w:Thomas Gray, “Letter to Doctor Wharton”, in:
    THIS is only to tell you that we set out on Monday morning, and shall travel leisurely, not by the direct road, for we intend to see several houses and places as we go; on Thursday we see York, and next morning early as we can, (certainly before ten o'clock) shall hope to meet you at Studiey. You will understand all this with Arch-Bishop Potter's Proviso; God willing, and provided nothing hinder, for if we are overturned and tons fracasstcs, or if the mob at Leeds cut us off as friends to turnpikes; or if the waters be out, and drown us; or (as Herodotus says) if we can go no further for feathers; in all these cases, and many more, we may chance to fail you.
    w:John Potter (archbishop) (1674-1747)
  • 1832, The baptist Magazine‎, page 202: 
    I promised to satisfy every one, and, the Lord willing, and the Society permitting, I will keep my promise.
  • 1873, Charles Warren Stoddard, "In a Transport", Overland Monthly, page 275
    We were bound for Tahiti, God willing and the winds favorable
  • 1887, Stephen Return Riggs, Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux, page 254
    God willing, and the Prudential Committee at Boston approving, it was to be carried into effect the next spring
  • 1903, Thurston Collins Peter, The History of Glasney Collegiate Church, Cornwall, page 82
    ... and he orders this prebend, God willing and the precious Martyr (St. Thomas) permitting DCDuring TALK 20:10, 15 July 2008 (UTC)