Recently I've wondered about two idioms which have a strange relationship.

Come Hell or high water


Lord willing and the creek don't rise

  1. Grammatical accuracy, alternative formulations, and questionable folk etymologies, and literal meanings aside, why do these two phrases (often used interchangably) have such different implications?

My thoughts so far have centered around the former being an expression of an internal locus of control (i.e. I will make this happen) and the latter of an external locus of control (i.e. I hope this won't not happen).

  1. Why does the more apparently positive formulation reference Hell while the less (certainly) positive one mentions the 'Lord?'
  • I realize now that rather than with roughly the same meaning, it would have been clearer to say which are often used interchangably, because they do have opposing literal meanings. Jul 26, 2013 at 12:00
  • Phone edits so ineffectual and computer so temporally distant... Jul 26, 2013 at 14:57
  • Related.
    – tchrist
    Jul 25, 2020 at 19:02

6 Answers 6


"Come Hell or high water" anticipates the possibility of adverse conditions and appropriately groups those with Hell, while "Lord willing and the creek don't rise" anticipates positive conditions (adverse conditions held at bay) and that is appropriately paired with an appeal to G-d.

They are similar in that they reference similar adverse conditions and I think you've correctly identified the distinction between them and appropriate context for each.


They don't really mean the same thing.

Come hell or high water

That means it will get done no matter what.

God willing [and the crick don't rise]

Whereas that means it will get done only if something doesn't prevent it.

If hell comes then you've got to oppose it to get into heaven. But on the contrary, if something is God's will then you have to let it happen.

So really the first is saying "not even the devil can stop me" whereas the second is saying "God will decide if this happens".

Similarly with the reference to rivers. The first defies the river, the second acquiesces to it.

These phrases, therefore, are opposite in meaning.

  • Why did you change the OP's question/title to "vs"? The OP says the idioms are related to one another.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 26, 2013 at 9:55
  • 1
    Because they ask why the implications are so different. They are setting the phrases against each other. Jul 26, 2013 at 10:01
  • And that's why he used that expression, implications, in his title. P.S you need to correct the spelling of "crick" It's creek. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 26, 2013 at 10:03
  • 8
    crick is dialectical. :-) Right, but the title was too broad. I prefer to specify what the question is about, rather than leave people guessing. I'm in chat if you want to carry on the discussion :) Jul 26, 2013 at 10:22
  • I obviously didn't mean dialectical, that's just my brain being stupid. I mean used in some dialects. Jul 26, 2013 at 13:21

Come hell or high water indicates that something will be done regardless of difficult circumstances or problems.

Lord willing and the creek don't rise indicates that a positive outcome depends on God's intervention or blessing.


You are confusing the determination with positivity.

The first statement, is in fact negative, it expects difficulty, perhaps what would normally be considered insurmountable difficulties. It expresses determination to overcome any such difficulty, but that very expression of determination is an oblique warning of the possibility of failure in face of the expected problems.

The second statement, is positive, it doesn’t expect any difficulty, and if difficulties occur, expect’s them to be easily dealt with. Only truly unforeseeable and insurmountable problems could prevent a successful conclusion. Such as God personally deciding that it won’t happen.

You would not say “I will get a gallon of milk from the store, come hell or high water” except as a joke, there’s no reasonable difficulty where that would be appropriate. You could say “ I will get a gallon of milk from the store, god willing and the creek don’t rise” without joking.

You would not say to someone fighting cancer, “You can beat this, God willing and the creek don’t rise”, it’s too positive about the outcome (not to mention that it may feel like God already has it in for them). It brushes the expected difficulty aside as if the task ahead was no more difficult than getting a gallon of milk from the store. You absolutely could tell someone fighting cancer, “I know you can beat this, come hell or high water”. You expect a good approximation of hell to happen, but know that they will give everything they got to get through it.


Come Hell or high water. Yes it seems on the surface to reference overcoming difficult circumstances. But below the surface the saying references overcoming the ultimate circumstances. The phrase can be broken into three parts. Part one: Hell. Hell references the devil's dominion and the ultimate enemy of mankind. The second part: or. Or leads into a contrasting circumstance that is implied as worse than part one may be, but also hints at a relationship between part one and part three. So this leads us to part three, but what could fulfill the requirements of being related to the idea of hell and also a worse situation than being in hell? Part Three: High Water. High Water references the biblical flood GOD sent down to destroy the world. As the wrath of GOD it is both related to the idea of hell as a very bad situation to be in and also that it is far worse than going to hell.

  • 1
    This doesn't answer the question, which asks about the difference between two sayings.
    – deadrat
    Nov 9, 2015 at 9:55

Creek was in reference to the Creek Indian tribe rising up and going to war, not a body of water.

  • 1
    Doubtful, if only because the Creek Nations never "rose up." The Creek War that was essentially a part of the War of 1812 started as a Creek civil war that eventually drew in the federal government. Andrew Jackson took the occasion to steal most of their land after the Indians lost and finished the job on the Trail of Tears about two decades later. Do you have any references that would back up your claim?
    – deadrat
    Jul 14, 2015 at 22:04
  • Hello Gary. We prefer supported answers on ELU. Here is an article that casts rather a lot of doubt on your assertion: 'God willing and the creek don’t rise' M Quinion_World Wide Words: Q From Bob Scala: An item that has been floating around the internet claims that the expression 'God willing and the creek don’t rise' referred to the Creek Indians, not a body of water. It mentions Benjamin Hawkins of the late 18th century, who was asked by the US president to go back to Washington.... Jul 14, 2015 at 22:04
  • 1
    In his reply, he was said to have written, “God willing and the Creek don’t rise”. Because he capitalized Creek it’s asserted that he was referring to the Creek Indian tribe and not a body of water. Is this derivation correct? A Quite certainly not. Every researcher who has investigated the expression has dismissed an Indian connection as untrue. The tale is widely reproduced and believed nevertheless. It’s worth looking into because of the way in which it has been elaborated in the version you quote. [bolding mine; I won't downvote until tomorrow] Jul 14, 2015 at 22:04

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