Friday, March 02, 2012

Creek Don't Rise

Michael Quinion has an entertaining item up about the phrase (as I remember it) "if the Lord is willin' and the Creek don't rise." His main purpose is to demolish the notion that the "Creek" here are Creek Indians, as in "the natives are restless tonight." But as to the provenance of the phrase itself:

The written record dates the saying from about the middle of the nineteenth century. But I know of just four instances from that century. Then there’s a long gap in the record before it began to appear again in the 1950s.
Allow me to throw a bit more light on the subject. I suspect the renewed popularity of the phrase dates from early 1964, i.e., the beginning of the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson, when it was uttered by his wife, Lady Bird (it's in the NYT obit, go look it up).

Wait a minute, what did she just say? Jackie Kennedy never talked like that. It was one more datum--there were so many--to remind us that we were functioning in a new world now--or at least an unfamiliar world. We knew that Texans talked loud and with a funny accent, but beyond that, for most of us all we knew in detail about Texas was what we had seen in Giant. And grant me this, when you really go looking for "typical Texans," you're not likely to turn up with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.  Now we had a president who received visitors from the toilet and lifted up beagles by their ears.  And this was his wife?  Was she kidding, or was she really a rube?

We know now that she was no rube.  By the time she died (in 2007, at the age of 94) it was clear to anybody who cared that she was a focused, discriminating and powerful personage in her own right.  If she talked about creeks, it may have been a sly prank or a genuine part of herself but it certainly wasn't any slip of the tongue.  Most first ladies are style setters.  Jackie gave us the pillbox hat.  Now this.  

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