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Choice Words

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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

What do you call the effect of water falling over the edge of a pool? Do you say it has a negative edge? An infinity edge? A vanishing edge? Or do you have another term that you like instead? Ever since these pools have been around, those three expressions (and some others, including “horizon pool”) have been used fairly interchangeably.

The imprecise terminology is understandable when you consider the sublime visual illusion that is achieved when these pools are designed, engineered and built correctly. It’s a tough effect to describe verbally, which is why the choice of the best possible phrase is important.

As one who cares a great deal about language, I’d like offer my wordy perspective on which phrase best fits this most dazzling of modern watershape designs:

[ ] Negative edge was the first term I ever heard used to describe the effect of a plane of flat water disappearing over the edge of a swimming pool. This term makes literal sense in that the edge of the pool set is a fraction of an inch below the water’s surface. The problem is the word “negative,” which seems at once an ironic and dreary word for such a beautiful design concept.

[ ] Infinity edge has a trendy sound and has caught on with many people. The problem I see with this nugget is that you have to go out pretty far on a metaphorical/metaphysical limb to find any connection between the word’s actual meaning and the design it’s being used to describe.

A friend recently explained to me that by visually connecting the water’s surface with surrounding views, it in effect goes on forever. As much as I love the indulgences of poetry, even I have a hard time swallowing that one. When I think of an infinity edge, I think of an edge that truly stretches without end in both lateral directions. Seashores, some riverbanks and some lakeshores arguably have infinity edges. Swimming pools don’t.

[ ] Horizon pool is a newcomer to the discussion – and has some merit. It certainly makes more literal sense than “infinity edge” and embodies a certain poetic quality. For all that, there’s another term that has been around longer and is more commonly used.

[ ] Vanishing edge is my personal choice, by a mile. In the classic, water-on-water application of the design, the edge effectively vanishes from sight as the water’s surface blends visually with the distant view. And even when the edge is used against a landscape (an application I’m seeing more and more), the term still works because the water’s surface literally vanishes over the side.

In addition to its literal accuracy, the word vanishing evokes images of mystery and magic tricks and special effects in motion pictures – associations that seem fitting given the visual “sleight of hand” that’s played on a viewer standing next to the pool.

Of course, a rose is a rose is a rose and by any other name is just as sweet, and the vanishing edge remains one of the hottest watershape designs going – and probably will remain so, no matter what you choose to call it.

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