Beach? Coast? Shore? Also: is Puget Sound part of the ocean?
March 29, 2006 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Waterfilter (heh) — so, I have a couple of water-related questions born of a drunken debate among friends. First: what is the difference between a coast, a beach, and a shore? Second: is Puget Sound part of the Pacific Ocean, an entirely separate body, or some freakish combination of the two? Finally: when Seattleites go down to the Sound, are they going to the coast, the beach, the shore, or something else?

Most of us agree that "shore" is the East Coast term for what we West Coast people call a coast. (Except then why don't Eastcoasters say "East Shore" and "West Shore"?) Maybe "shore" is actually East Coast for beach? What's the difference?

As for Puget Sound: I maintained — steadfastly in my drunken state — that the Sound was not a part of the Pacific Ocean, but rather some entirely separate body of water that opened onto it. Days later, and sober, I can't recall my exact reasoning, but it still feels right. Is it? Doesn't the sound contain brackish water? Brackish, to me, is not equal to oceanic.

This all started when one of my friends said she had gone to the coast while in Seattle. I was confused (and would have been even while sober), and thought she had driven to the coast, as in along the Pacific Ocean. But no, she meant they'd gone down along the Sound someplace. Does the Puget Sound have a coast?
posted by jdroth to Science & Nature (41 answers total)
The Puget Sound is a sound, the Pacific Ocean is an Ocean. They communicate, but are separate bodies of water.

The Puget Sounds contains salt water, just like the Pacific Ocean.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:25 PM on March 29, 2006

Well, I would say "shore," "coast" and "beach" all mean "where water meets land," with the first two implying ocean and the last being applicable to lakes and rivers and things too. Further, "shore" is the Jersey term for "beach." Is "coast" the Northwest term for "beach"? Because in day-to-day usage, I would only use "coast" for a big stretch.
posted by dame at 1:38 PM on March 29, 2006

Is "coast" the Northwest term for "beach"?

No. From my experience, the coast is the entire stretch where the ocean meets the land. A beach is a small section of the coast. Also, you can have a beach on a river or lake. That's the useage I grew up with.
posted by jdroth at 1:41 PM on March 29, 2006

From what I gather (non-english speaker, but we also have 3 different words, coast (costa), shore (litoral) and beach (praia)):

Coast: Big stretch which divides continent from water. I don't know if a sound can have a coast, but a gulf surely can.

Shore: _the_ division of continent from water. you swim to shore, or you run to the shore.

Beach: a small sandy patch of the coast, usually at most a couple miles long (usually it is defined as the patch of sand that goes from bunch of rocks to bunch of rocks).

So, Seattle is at the West Coast, is delimited to the west by the shore, and has a lot of (hopefully nice) beaches.
posted by qvantamon at 1:41 PM on March 29, 2006

The coast is a geographic feature. It's the line where the land meets the ocean.

A beach is a geological feature: a big pile of sand that sometimes forms along coastlines due to erosion. There are coasts without beaches, though, since sometimes the land meets the ocean at a big cliff or a pile of boulders instead.

In NY and NJ, at least, a "shore" is... a social feature, I guess. It's a cluster of public beaches and hotels and bars and restaurants and casinos and whatnot where you go on vacation.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:42 PM on March 29, 2006

As a Seattlite, I can tell you that I often walk from my house to the beach and along part of Puget Sound's shoreline. When I want to to the coast, however, I have to get in my car and drive several hours before I reach the ocean. I've never heard anybody in Seattle refer to the Sound as the coast.
posted by Buzz at 1:44 PM on March 29, 2006

, you can have a beach on a river or lake. That's the useage I grew up with.

This is actually an argument I've had surprisingly often. As far as my native usage goes, a beach implies an ocean. Are you from the Midwest?
posted by dame at 1:47 PM on March 29, 2006

I believe ND¢'s answer is comprehensive, except - are any of them inflammable?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:49 PM on March 29, 2006

As far as my native usage goes, a beach implies an ocean. Are you from the Midwest?

Born and raised and lived my entire life within a 50-mile radius of Portland, Oregon.
posted by jdroth at 1:49 PM on March 29, 2006

Intersting. It's always been Midwesterners before. I assumed it's because they liked to pretend that their lake was an ocean. (Third Coast my ass.)
posted by dame at 1:50 PM on March 29, 2006

In New England we have fresh-water beaches, too.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:51 PM on March 29, 2006

Where I'm from (western Canada) the word beach is sometimes used when referring to areas without any water. A beach is a sandy area used for recreation. Most often associated with a body of water, or near to a body of water but not necessarily in contact. This is usually the case when beach is part of the name of the place, so it might not be an actual use of beach as a descriptive, rather as a proper noun.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:52 PM on March 29, 2006

In Boston we refer to "The North Shore" (da not showah) and "the South Shore" (da sout showah) to describe the coastal towns north and south of the city.

I don't know anybody who uses "the shore" any other way except for maybe fishermen when they're on their boats.

"The Beach" is a sandy area that slopes into the ocean where we go to bodysurf, fly kites, pick up sea shells, get sun tans, and cruise chicks.

The Beach is also what Tom Hanks invaded when he and five stereotypes saved the world from the Nazis. Nobody "stormed the coast" or "invaded the shore."

Any other non-beach area of land that abuts the ocean, such as a rocky area, is simply "the ocean." As in "I love coming to the ocean, I'm so glad we're here. Let's have sex.", this only holds true when we're actually there. We're never at "the shore", we're either at "the beach" or "the ocean."

However, when we're NOT there, but we need to describe a coastal area, then we use "the coast", as in "I love the coast of Maine, I can't wait to go there next fall and have sex." We're never going to "the ocean", we're either going to "the beach" or "the coast of somewhere."

"The coast" is never used by itself. It's always "the coast of somewhere." as in "The coast of maine."

California is "The West Coast" and we live on "The East Coast", though most of us claim we live in "New England" and use "The East Coast" to refer to the part of North America that extends from Florida to Canada.

Everything between New York and Las Vegas is "The fly over states."

Keep in mind that when it comes to language, Bostonians are insane. It's wicked bizaaah. Also, I never really thought about any of this until just now and I'm not an authority on cartographic terminology. This is just one New Englander's take on the matter.
posted by bondcliff at 1:55 PM on March 29, 2006

I believe ND¢'s answer is comprehensive, except - are any of them inflammable?

Good one. Was it original?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:57 PM on March 29, 2006

In Jersey, it's not a shore (descriptive), it's the shore (place name referring generally to any of number of beachfront towns along the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey.)
posted by desuetude at 2:00 PM on March 29, 2006

Puget Sound is separate. You can't go to the coast while you're in Seattle. You could go to the beach (Puget Sound) or the shore (Lake Washington), but as Buzz says, you'd have to go west several hours to get to the coast (Pacific Ocean).
posted by lobakgo at 2:01 PM on March 29, 2006

I've lived in Seattle for 20 years, and one of the first things I learned is that the Sound (Puget, that is) is NOT the ocean! Locals think you're crazy if you say that. Partly because we don't get the waves and general water movement, and partly because when you're at the Pacific ocean, there's nothing to be seen except water (and most places on our coast that's at least 3,000 miles) - when you're on the Sound you can always see land.
I've visited the East Coast, and have friends from there, and from what I can tell, the word "shore" usually means what a westerner would call "the beach". Seattle does have a few sandy spots on the shore of the Sound that are real beaches (Alki, Golden Gardens to name two).
The Washington coast has many beaches and bluffs - and is the only place to see the real ocean in this state.
Clear as mud, eh?
posted by dbmcd at 2:03 PM on March 29, 2006

I take coast as a region, or a modifier meaning "right near the water", like east coast, west coast, coastal maine, etc.

Beach is a sandy place where you can sit, swim, surf, etc, next to an ocean. (lakes or rivers with beaches? HA!)

Shore is a word used in the NY tri-state area, meaning "location of my shitty vacation home, and/or crappy motels."

The sound is not the ocean, no matter what sort of water it has.
posted by I Love Tacos at 2:04 PM on March 29, 2006

Buzz and lobakgo are right...I'm a Seattle native too.
(Waving from Texas)
posted by what-i-found at 2:04 PM on March 29, 2006

Oh, something else from my apparently uncommon usage: I would call a rocky stretch of shore the beach too. It's just not a swimming beach. I grew up near the beach in SoCal, so maybe that has something to do with it. Then again, I think a spigot can only be outside and a faucet inside, so I have water issues.
posted by dame at 2:07 PM on March 29, 2006

dame writes "As far as my native usage goes, a beach implies an ocean. Are you from the Midwest?"

I've always used the word beach for lakes and rivers as well (in AZ and MI). We need a term that forms a distinction between the nice sandy areas where a boat can be pulled up and the areas where the water meets a cliff or rocks.
posted by mullacc at 2:07 PM on March 29, 2006

I live in New England, where we have no ocean, only many lakes (quick quiz, which state is that?) and I just barely call the side of the lake a beach, even if it's sandy and everything. I'll say "let's go to the lake" or "oh, isn't it nice here at the lake?"

Everything bondcliff said is true except that I have also heard of and gone to the Jersey shore which friends of mine from New Jersey would claim was "the shore" the way people from New York claim they live in "the city"

I've also lived in Seattle. The Sound is not the coast, to me. Driving to the ocean necessitates a few hours in the car and, even when I was going to something other people thought was a beach [Golden Gardens, Alki] I wouldn't call them the beach or the shore or the ocean or a lake or basically anything except their given name.
posted by jessamyn at 2:09 PM on March 29, 2006

Though I'd only use the the term beach while I was already at the lake/river. I would never say, "I'm going to the beach" before I departed to the river/lake but rather, "I'm going to the river/lake." Once at the lake, the term beach is important.
posted by mullacc at 2:10 PM on March 29, 2006

I think that's right mullacc. I'd prabably call a swimming beach just a beach in that case. But always say "going to the lake."
posted by dame at 2:17 PM on March 29, 2006

Native Seattleite here. In our usage, the Coast is directly on the Pacific; Ocean Shores, the Oregon Coast, Long Beach, etc.

A beach can be on any body of water. Alki obviously has a beach for example... what else could it be called? There are beaches on Lake Washington, too... Juanita Beach, Matthews Beach.

No local would ever say "I'm going to the shore." That's just not normal usage here. One might say "something washed up on the shore (or shores) of Lake Washington" but that, to me, is a different usage. If you are going to the beach, a Seattle native might say "I'm going down to the beach, wanna come with?" (Speaking of northwestern and midwestern quirks, there's another one right there.)

Or if one is going to Westport for the week you might say "We're driving to the Coast for a few days." It's a substantial drive from Seattle.

There is no coast in Seattle, nor a particular "Shore" -- though the lakes and Sound have shores.

Does that clarify?

"I would never say, "I'm going to the beach" before I departed to the river/lake but rather, "I'm going to the river/lake." Once at the lake, the term beach is important.

I sort of agree... but we have beaches on the lakes here that are called beaches officially. Like Matthews Beach. So we might say "I'm going to the beach" to go there, if we live close enough that the context is clear. But Carkeek Park, say... I wouldn't say I'm going to the beach if I was going there, I'd say "I'm going to Carkeek" or "Carkeek Park".

(When I was a little kid I thought it was "Car Keys Park"...)
posted by litlnemo at 2:23 PM on March 29, 2006

I am from New England. I live in New York.

Say I'm in, say, Springfield, Mass. I drive to Cape Cod. I've gone to the coast. Now I'm in Cape Cod, I walk down to an area where I'm very close to the water. I'm on the shore. If I happen to be standing on a sandy area, I'm at the beach.

For colloquial uses, I think these all depend on your perspective. If you're talking about the entire country, then every state that touches the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean is part of "the coast." If you're in a coastal state, towns that touch the ocean are coastal, and towns that don't are inland. A beach is pretty relative, too. You could say "I'm going to the beach" and drive from an inland town to a coastal town to actually lay in the sun on the beach. Or to play skiball in an arcade in a town that has a beach. You could be on the shore of a lake, on a grassy area roasting weenies, and walk over to "the beach" which would be the sandy area as opposed to the grassy area. You could be standing five feet from the water, walk two feet closer, and suddenly be "on the shore."

Also, good point about "the shore"--it can also refer to the Jersey Shore, which is just the name of a region which is along the ocean. It doesn't refer to the whole coast.
posted by lampoil at 2:31 PM on March 29, 2006

Mid-Atantic native here. Nothing to add, really -- I agree with ND¢'s definitions. Of course you can have a beach without an ocean -- many lakes truck in sand to create a beach. As for blue-beetle's defiintion, of a recreational area not necessarily in contact with the water, there's a place in DC called P Street Beach which has no sand, and its body of water is Rock Creek -- it's a grassy slope where people sunbathe and play frisbee when the weather's agreeable.
posted by Rash at 3:18 PM on March 29, 2006

(Third Coast my ass.) It's not the third coast, it's the middle coast, the midwest never comes in third in anything.

I think of the sandy part along any body of water as the beach, ideally if it includes a rec area. A coast to me is normally only along an ocean, but then the Coast Guard doesn't make sense.

I never use the phrase shore, ever. Never comes up, and I live a few blocks from a very big lake, one that some would even describe as great.
posted by drezdn at 3:51 PM on March 29, 2006

Will no one speak for the ocean? Is there no champion of Metafilter who will come forth and declare that yes, Puget Sound is a part of the Pacific? Not one among you?
posted by jdroth at 4:33 PM on March 29, 2006

Well, I dunno about lakes in other parts of the country, but we have lots of lakes with sandy beaches, no trucking-in necessary.

As a Seattle-area native, I'll tell you I've never gone "to the beach." I have often gone to locations that have beaches, or even places that are called "beach." I go to the Coast, where there are beaches; I go to a park along the Puget Sound shore, which has a beach. And though, as I said above, we have lakes with beaches, I rarely hear them called that, except formally. If I'm at a lake and want to go near the water, I'll usually say "let's go down to the water" or "let's walk on the sand." And though we certainly have "shores" here (even shorelines which government manages), we never call them that in everyday usage.
posted by lhauser at 4:37 PM on March 29, 2006

I lived close enough to Matthews Beach growing up that it probably influenced my speech a bit. Now that I live in South Seattle, not near any beaches, it is true I wouldn't say "Let's go to the beach" without specifying which beach.
posted by litlnemo at 10:46 PM on March 29, 2006

litlnemo - in South Seattle, if you say let's go to "the Beach" you're heading to Rainier Beach H.S.
posted by pitchblende at 11:18 PM on March 29, 2006

I can't believe we haven't heard from any island dwellers -- growing up on Long Island, outside NY city, we referred to the "North Shore" and the "South Shore" -- one facing the Long Island Sound (definitely *not* part of the ocean) and the other facing the Atlantic ocean.

But on either shore, if we went to the water we were going to the beach. Now that I'm in California, I live on the coast, go to the beach, and like some other posters, would never dream of using the word "shore."
posted by obliquicity at 11:22 PM on March 29, 2006

Say I'm in, say, Springfield, Mass. I drive to Cape Cod. I've gone to the coast.

No, you've gone to the Cape. I think "to the shore" is an unusual construction here, unless you're starting from offshore.

And I agree with Dame - we go to the lake, to sit on the beach. If we're going to the beach, we usually use its name "going to Horseneck"; "going to Crane's"), unless we always go to the same beach.

And the North and South shores that bondcliff mentions include large swaths of land that are not near any significant water. They pretty much mean "north of Boston" and "south of Boston", but within MA.

AmbroseChapel, it's original, if you mean did I hear or read it somewhere - I didn't.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:14 AM on March 30, 2006

If I'm in West Seattle and say "let's go to the beach," I mean "let's put on bathing suits and soak up some sun down at Alki beach." If I say "let's go for a walk on the beach" it's likely to be a romantic endeavor in the evening or early morning hours. For any other purpose it's usually just "let's go down to Alki." I think jessamyn (and others) nailed part three of the question in that regard. Most people in Seattle probably refer to the name of the place on the Sound they're going, rather than just "the beach," "the water," or "the Sound." Since in the populated areas most of it is developed and/or private, it's easy to be specific about destinations.

As for the "what is a beach" question, I'll admit that the days can be few and far between when you can really call Alki or Golden Gardens "the beach," but we've had a some hot summers recently, during which they've had nearly every ingredient, except surfers. That alone probably excludes them from ever being real beaches, so I'll have to rethink my usage of the word. The only time you're ever likely to see a surfer in the water around here is during a windstorm when everyone is shuttered indoors except the tv camera crews that are out to record the damage, and the dude with a wetsuit, a board, and a serious surfing jones, who will take whatever waves he can get.

jdroth - I'll bite. Yes, technically, Puget Sound, like any sound, bay, or inlet is part of the larger body of water it joins. However, as an example of one of the practical differences, If you're in Oakland and you want to go surfing, you go to the ocean, which is across the bay and on the other side of San Francisco. If you're in Seattle, it's across or around Puget Sound, and on the other side of the Olympic mountain range. (Your surf spots may vary.)
posted by Buzz at 12:00 PM on March 30, 2006

Say I'm in, say, Springfield, Mass. I drive to Cape Cod. I've gone to the coast.

No, you've gone to the Cape.

Heh? Can't you do both? You're going from an inland town to a coastal town. Are you saying towns on capes aren't coastal, because they face a cape as opposed to open ocean? Or are you just saying you yourself would sooner say "to the Cape" instead of "to the coast"? If the latter, it was just an example. Substitute Bar Harbor or Coney Island or Miami or what have you.
posted by lampoil at 12:27 PM on March 30, 2006

No, I'm saying I have never heard, and can't picture, a Mass. native saying they're going (or have gone) "to the coast" when their destination is Cape Cod. It would be like saying "I'm going East."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:49 PM on March 30, 2006

OK. Yeah, I'll concede that. I meant it more like an accurate statement (relative to shore and beach) than a local colloquialism. I was just using Springfield and the Cape as random examples of inland and coastal towns. I'm not even from MA.

I guess the distinction is used most on weather reports. You hear about it being a little warmer on the coast during the winter, or the coast getting more snow or whatever, as opposed to inland. If it's a local report, they mean the towns near the water get more snow. If it's a national report, they mean the states near the water get more snow.
posted by lampoil at 1:23 PM on March 30, 2006

"in South Seattle, if you say let's go to "the Beach" you're heading to Rainier Beach H.S."

Heh, true, I suppose.
posted by litlnemo at 4:41 PM on March 30, 2006

According to Wikipedia

Originally, the name Puget Sound only referred to the southern reaches beyond Poverty Bay explored by Peter Puget, and the central and northern reaches familiar to Washington State Ferry riders was called Admiralty Inlet. Today Admiralty Inlet only refers to the strait between Whidbey Island and Point No Point on the Kitsap Peninsula. But on a modern nautical chart Admiralty Inlet is a distinct body of water from the Puget Sound. The northern border of the Puget Sound on the East is formed by Possession Sound which separates Whidbey Island from Everett, Washington.
posted by luneray at 3:00 PM on April 11, 2006

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