Saturday, September 20, 2014

OED on Rivers

Using the Oxford English Dictionary, we will shed some lexical light on the river Sidon and its head, paying particular attention to Early Modern English (see the blog article by that name) senses of meaning. The proper name Sidon occurs 37 times in the text in the following constructs. Scriptural references document first attestation.
Relative Size
Naming conventions for flowing water in North America were largely established in the 1600's, the Early Modern English era. In North America the following order of watercourse size is common:
  • A brook has no tributaries. You step over a brook. Many brooks are seasonal. A brook can be called a "very small stream."
  • A creek is formed by the confluence of multiple brooks. You jump over a creek. A creek is often called a "small stream."
  • A stream is formed by the confluence of multiple creeks. You wade across a stream.
  • A river is formed by the confluence of many streams. At the point of confluence where a river is born, these tributaries are called head-streams. A river's largest head-stream is called its main head-stream or main-stem, which may or may not be its largest tributary depending on what enters the channel downstream. At a ford, you may be able to wade across a river at low water, but generally you swim or float across it. Most rivers flow year-round. A river is generally described with augmentative adjectives (large, wide, deep) and seldom in diminutive terms (small, narrow, shallow). The confluence of two (or occasionally three) rivers creates a third (or occasionally fourth) river. 
  • A seaway is a large river with a channel deep enough for ocean-going ship traffic.
Other regional terms include branch, burn, fork, kill (from the Middle Dutch "kille"), race, run and wash. Bayou, slough and swamp generally describe a marshy area of slow moving water. In Britain the word "creek" denotes a tidal inlet. "Stream" is also a generic term referring to any flow of liquid or gas regardless of size.

Much of North America was originally surveyed using a 100 link chain 66 feet long. 1/4 chain = 1 rod. 10 chains = 1 furlong. 80 chains = 1 mile. When surveyors cane to a watercourse wider than 1 chain they usually called it a river. Names became politicized due to property rights. In many U.S. states the bottom of a river is public property while a brook, creek or stream may be privately owned. This led to some re-naming to benefit large land owners, particularly timber interests.

"A gret rywer he gert him pas." John Barbour, Bruce, 1380 printed in 1489.
"Wheare did run a rever, so bige and stifly...that we durste not adventur to rid over it." Thomas Dallam, Diary, 1599.

This means the river Sidon is almost certainly a large stream with many upstream tributaries.

Our correlation for the river Sidon is the Chixoy/Salinas/Usumacinta, the largest river in Mesoamerica. The Chixoy-Negro (average width 140 meters) is its main head-stream. It has a vast network of upstream (and downstream) tributaries.
Usumacinta River with Tributaries
Local meanders or great bends notwithstanding, a river in the Early Modern English era generally flowed in one principal direction. A river that veered off in another direction was usually given a new name. For example, at Fairmont, West Virginia the West Fork River and the Tygart Valley (East Fork) River come together to form the Monongahela which flows north for 210 kilometers to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. East of Coudersport in north central, Pennsylvania the Allegheny is formed from the confluence of several streams. After a great bend into southern New York, the Allegheny flows generally south southwest for 523 kilometers to Pittsburgh. The Allegheny (the main head-stream) and the Monongahela come together at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio which flows generally west southwest for 1,579 kilometers before it joins the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. The Ohio is the principal tributary of the Mississippi. At Cairo, the Ohio carries almost a third more water than the Mississippi. Since the Mississippi follows its general southerly course, though, its name continues downstream.

"And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria." Bible King James Version Genesis 2:14.

This means river Sidon probably flows in a generally consistent direction throughout its length. We know from textual analysis the river Sidon flows generally south to north. See the blog article "River Sidon South to North."

Our correlation for the river Sidon, the Chixoy/Salinas/Usumacinta begins at the point where the east-flowing Chixoy-Negro turns north. From this point, the Usumacinta system flows generally 28 degrees west of north.
Usumacinta River System Flowing South to North
Head of a River
In the Early Modern English era, the head of a river was the point of confluence where streams came together with enough water flow to form a river, or the point of confluence where two rivers came together and formed a third. This head of a river is a very different thing than the modern concept of headwaters (aka ultimate headwaters) or the most distant source of a river. Geographers and explorers compete to locate the ultimate sources of major rivers using modern technology, while the heads of those rivers have generally been well-known for centuries. The head of the Amazon is the confluence of the Marañon with the Ucayali about 130 river kilometers upstream from Iquitos, Peru. The headwaters of the Amazon (not established until 1996) lie more than 3,000 river kilometers upstream in the melting glaciers of Nevado Mismi in Arequipa Province, Peru.   The head of the Ohio is Point State Park in Pittsburgh. The headwaters of the Ohio are nearly 600 river kilometers upstream in Potter County, Pennsylvania. The head of the Mississippi is Lake Itasca in Clearwater County, Minnesota. The headwaters of the Mississippi are over 1,200 air kilometers away where the most distant source of the Missouri (Hell Roaring Creek) begins at Brower's Spring southwest of West Yellowstone, Montana. Basically, the head of a river is the point at which the name begins while the headwaters are the origin of the longest stream channel from source to mouth.

"As the River leadeth thee to his head; shall not the head lead thee to the originall spring thereof?" Philippe de Mornay translated by Sir Philip Sidney and Arthur Golding, A woorke concerning the trewnesse of the christian religion, (London: John Charlewood and George Robinson for Thomas Cadman, 1587)

This means the head of the river Sidon is almost certainly the confluence of upstream watercourses and not headwaters.

Our correlation for the head of the river Sidon (following V. Garth Norman) is the confluence of the northwest-flowing Salama with the east-flowing Chixoy-Negro. This is the same point geographers identify as the head of the Chixoy.
Head of the Chixoy
A river can also spawn downstream distributaries, each with a head. This is the sense of Genesis 2:10.

Word Order
The Book of Mormon always refers to "river Sidon" rather than "Sidon River." This is consistent  with Early Modern English and modern British usage.

"Beyond the riuer Ganges...the people are caught with the Sun, and begin to be blackish." Pliny translated by Philemon Holland, The historie of the world, (London: A. Islip, 1601)
"Rowed up the River Mississippi, in a Canot." Philosophical transactions, (London: Royal Society of London) Vol. 15, 1685

This is another of the many indications that the Lord's target language for the 1830 Book of Mormon text was Early Modern English rather than Jacksonian American English.

The Book of Mormon uses the phrase "waters of Sidon" eight times. This construct is attested in Early Modern English.

"Passaw, Lyntz, and other places adjoining to the waters of Enus and Danubius." Thomas Cranmer, Letter 20 Oct., 1532
"The extent thereof...and the waters of Medway, all which extent is under the jurisdiction and conservancy of the Lord Mayor..." James Howell, Londinopolis, 1657

See the article "Strahler Stream Order" for additional information about rivers germane to this discussion.