I am discussing cartographic conventions. For instance, "rivers should be blue" and "country borders should be black".

In such a discussion, how should I refer to a line that separates land from a large body of water?
I am looking for a single term that works for ocean, sea, lake (rivers not needed).

My attempts:

  • coast
  • shore
  • seaside line
  • seaside
  • bank

Is there a more appropriate term?

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  • You probably already saw from ctype.h's edit, but a bonus vocabulary word for you: map-drawing is known as cartography – xdumaine Mar 26 '13 at 17:03

Shoreline is a more general term than coastline, encompassing not only oceans and seas, but lakes and large rivers as well.

  • I dunno. I wouldn't use shoreline for land that's next to the ocean: that's strictly coastline for me. Also, shoreline is a more informal term, less suited to map-making. – Martha Mar 27 '13 at 5:38
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    More informal and less suited to map-making? Perhaps, but it appears that (at least) the NOAA has no problem using shoreline as a general term inclusive of coastline in the context of cartography. – snailplane Mar 27 '13 at 5:48
  • Shoreline was the first word that sprung to my mind as well. Seas have shores, after all, so I'm not sure why it's been suggested that shoreline is inappropriate for coasts. – starsplusplus Mar 26 '14 at 9:19

You can use coastline for oceans, seas, and lakes, but not for rivers. You can use boundary/boundaries for rivers.

  • I don't need rivers, so coastline sounds perfect indeed! – Nicolas Raoul Mar 26 '13 at 14:54
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    shoreline would also work. – Yes I use MUMPS Mar 26 '13 at 15:34
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    I've never heard of lake shores being called coasts. Can you imagine a street called Lake Coast Boulevard (rather than Lake Shore Boulevard)? It sounds awkward. – Kaz Mar 26 '13 at 19:03
  • @Kaz: I agree with you. Shoreline, snailplane's suggestion, sounds much better to me as well. My little bit of research on the Net, however, turned up coastline. It's quite possible that there's a difference between technical & popular usage. I often find that in biomedical & business English. – user264 Mar 27 '13 at 0:45

The best word depends on the classification of the body of water:

The boundary between land and the ocean is the coastline (or coast).

The boundary between land and a sea is the shoreline (or shore or seashore).

The boundary between land and a lake is the shoreline (or shore).

The boundary between land and a river is the riverbank (or bank).

Seaside is a more generic term, and refers to the land or attractions that are next to the sea. For instance, a hotel next to the sea might be part of a seaside resort.

In the context of cartography, native speakers would normally refer to the boundary around continents as the coast, the boundaries of lakes and internal seas as shores and to refer to rivers directly (i.e. as rivers), rather than riverbanks.

  • Thanks! Unfortunately I need a single term that applies to the three of ocean, sea, lake... Is shoreline unusable for an ocean? – Nicolas Raoul Mar 27 '13 at 6:46

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