clock menu more-arrow no yes

All those confusing geography terms, explained in a gorgeous antique map

This impressive imaginary map manages to define many geographical terms without needing text:

A chart of geographical definitions

A chart of geographical definitions.

David Rumsey Collection

You can see the original map, circa 1870, at the David Rumsey Collection (we've upped the contrast on this digital version to make it slightly more readable).

A few of the more confusing terms merit some clarification, so we referred to the Oxford English Dictionary on the following:

  • What's the difference between a gulf and a bay? They're pretty similar, but a bay is often wider and has a wider opening to the sea. At the same time, some gulfs are larger than many bays (like the Gulf of Mexico). There's bound to be some confusion, since the terms are often used interchangeably.
  • cascade is a small waterfall.
  • Channel versus strait versus passage versus sound? A channel and strait both connect bodies of water, but a channel is often wider. A sound is like a strait, but larger. A passage typically connects bodies of water between islands. However, the terms are often used interchangeably.
  • In case it wasn't clear, a cove is a sheltered recess in a mountain.

Now that you finally know what some of those half-remembered terms mean, the next step is obvious: Go out and see some in person.


The bridge design that helped win World War II


The invention that fixed lighthouses


How tag became a professional sport

View all stories in Almanac

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.