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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/70

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66
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

of old world folk-lore was a part of this transplanting much of which has come down to us in the names of plants and in the various other forms of speech. Garden-craft and the 'art of simpling' was a part of every housewife's knowledge, and plants were diligently sought for their healing virtues. Knowledge of this kind was also to some extent gained from the Indian inhabitants. In all the earlier descriptions of the new world such objects had a prominent place, together with the character of the land and aboriginal peoples and the advantages for settlement. One can see in these accounts the evident striving of the European mind to find suitable names and to describe an object by its likeness to familiar objects at home.

The few records that we have of the impressions of the earlier colonists are scattered through old journals, letters and histories of travel, and the references to plants and animals are often exceedingly obscure as to the species indicated. The question of the origin of names is at best recondite. Names are part of the folk-lore of peoples; they came into existence far back in a dim past, long before the period of written history. When we do find them gathered in ancient vocabularies, as in the one of Aelfric (955-1020 A.D.), we may be sure that they were even then venerable with age. The new world has added comparatively little to the stock of old world nomenclature. More often an old name has been given to an entirely different thing from the one that it originally stood for, and has been twisted into a new meaning with new associations. Thus the word creek originally meant the tidal estuary of a small river, a place where vessels might find harbor, and it is so used throughout Great Britain to-day. In certain parts of the United States, notably along the middle and southern Atlantic seaboard, the word has been extended to the small tributary of a river throughout its entire course. In England these little inland streams are called 'brooks,' which is clearly their rightful name—shallow water-courses with much tumbling and bickering over stony places. Milton very clearly distinguishes between the two where in 'Paradise Regained'

Freshet or purling brook,

may be contrasted with the lines in 'Paradise Lost'

Forthwith the sounds and seas, each creek and bay,

Both are here pictured with their characteristic associations, the one as an upland stream, the other as a tidal inlet. In the Bible the word 'creek' is used with perfect clearness as to its meaning in the description of Paul's shipwreck—"And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship." Here we have the idea of a harbor in the use of the word. It is possible, I think, to see how our brooks have come to be called 'creeks' when we reflect that south of New England the large rivers have many smaller streams