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I am looking for a word (or short construct of words) that could be used to refer to things that a given vehicle could traverse: "sky, land, water. etc."

To give an analogue, I can refer to "gasoline, diesel, electricity, rocket, etc." as "fuels"

In my specific case, I can't use "environment" because it's being used to describe other things in the same work, and would become ambiguous.

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Are you looking for terrain? –  Autoresponder Aug 14 '13 at 18:31
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that, or some modification of it, could work! why not make it an answer so I can give props? –  Kris Aug 14 '13 at 18:32
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The military might use the term "theater" here. –  mkoistinen Aug 14 '13 at 23:04
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name the variable questions are off topic per the help center. –  MετάEd Aug 15 '13 at 0:53
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Edited and re-opened. The programming context is a red herring. This is less a special-case naming problem than a legitimate diction question that happens to be for a programming need. I edited out the programming, which brings it into the site guidelines without changing the OP's basic question. –  Jaydles Aug 15 '13 at 19:12
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9 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I would suggest medium

2: a means of effecting or conveying something: as a surrounding or enveloping substance

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+1 even though I can't (yet) see a way of using it, too generic for my use case –  Kris Aug 14 '13 at 22:03
    
@Kris you mark the answer you accept by clicking the "tick" button, and the users will vote on the answers they think are best for them. –  user1306322 Aug 15 '13 at 6:37
    
@user1306322: I know, I'm just not ready to do that yet. –  Kris Aug 15 '13 at 7:34
    
@Kris In fact I wasn't thrilled with it either. See my last comment under "terrain." –  Jack Ryan Aug 15 '13 at 16:57
    
Medium for... Cars? Magic? Electricity? The ambiguity of this term (which will require a second qualifying word) seems to negate its usefulness with the intended meaning in the question. –  Izkata Aug 15 '13 at 17:03
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Would terrain fit your needs?

ter·rain
/təˈrān/ Noun: An area of land or the particular features of it.

Another, albeit longer, option would be topography

Noun:

  1. a precise description of a place a detailed graphic representation of the surface features of a place or object

  2. the features themselves (the terrain)

  3. the surveying of the features

EDIT: With suggestion from a comment I've added the following, from m-w.com

milieu

noun: the physical or social setting in which something occurs or develops : environment

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Terrain is a generalization of any class of land, but does not seem to apply to either water or air/space. –  Jack Ryan Aug 14 '13 at 21:11
    
@JackRyan Within the context of video games, "terrain" is used (almost everywhere) for surfaces the players can traverse, provided there are no other obstacles (like a wall or building). This includes land and, often, water (some games don't allow players in the water), although I'm not so sure about air/space. –  Izkata Aug 15 '13 at 1:47
    
@Izkata I have no doubt it's used, I'm questioning whether or not it's use is appropriate. This definition and the etymology firmly (pun intended) point to solid earth rather gaseous or liquid material. –  Jack Ryan Aug 15 '13 at 16:51
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@JackRyan I'm bringing it up because the question specifically asks about in the context of a programming problem, which sounds like a video game of some sort to me. When thought of that way, almost every other answer just sounds bizarre and (in one or two cases) pretentious - and in others, ambiguous ("domain", for example, is much more broad than makes sense - you'd need to qualify what it is the domain of, negating the advantage of the term). –  Izkata Aug 15 '13 at 16:59
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@JackRyan: Added as an edit. –  Jacobm001 Aug 15 '13 at 17:00
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This meaning of the word domain might be appropriate:

A district or region under rule, control, or influence, or contained within certain limits; realm; sphere of activity, influence, or dominion.

(Source: OED, 3b)

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This is what I would have suggested too. I've specifically seen it used to refer to land, sea, or air. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 15 '13 at 12:18
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Element.

(Webster's:

three: a natural habitat, sphere of activity, or environment... )

However, that is not to say that using this word would sound natural in every possible context.

Also, I wish the auto-correct device wouldn't keep renumbering - that's Webster's sense 3 for 'element'.

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+1 in fact 1a from m-w.com: "any of the four substances air, water, fire, and earth formerly believed to compose the physical universe." If donation was an option I would put all of the votes accrued from "medium" here. –  Jack Ryan Aug 16 '13 at 14:04
    
In spite of the plaudits, I don't agree that these are the same polysemes, Jack. Closely related, yes. But the sense I was thinking of appears say in 'He's in his element when he's swimming / singing / parsing sentences.' This would sound OK with 'The new tank is in its element surging through shallow bogs.' However, as head of a table: Element: air / deep water / shallow water / shallow marsh / sandy desert / stony desert ... - it sounds distinctly odd. –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 17 '13 at 23:03
    
I admit I like "Element", especially with the added reasoning. On its own however, it remains too ambiguous. –  Kris Aug 19 '13 at 4:46
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Consider environs.

It's used in a similar sense to environment, but has the connotation of being more localized. One could say a vehicle moves through its environs.

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I know it doesn't get any more abstract than these two but what about space or area.

If this is to be used in a programming sense then, personally I would go for something along the lines of driver-zone or go-zone (as opposed to the commonly used term no-go zone).

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Element is the best word. You must have heard five elements of earth(i.e. Land, Fire, Water, Air, Sky or vacuum).

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Yes but on its own it is much too ambiguous. Almost everything else in scope can also be said to be an element of some kind. –  Kris Aug 17 '13 at 13:06
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I know this is wrong, but my brain dredged up "substrate"

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But medium is better. –  Dominic Cronin Aug 14 '13 at 21:42
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Mode of transport(ation)

Mode of transport (or means of transport or transport mode or transport modality or form of transport) is a term used to distinguish substantially different ways to perform transport. The most dominant modes of transport are aviation, land transport, which includes rail, road and off-road transport, and ship transport. Other modes also exist, including pipelines, cable transport, and space transport. Human-powered transport and animal-powered transport are sometimes regarded as their own mode, but these normally also fall into the other categories.

For the OP's given example, just mode should serve the purpose as it would be self-explanatory in context.

Also discussed under Transport on Wiki.

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Mode of transportation would be flight, not sky though right? –  Kris Aug 15 '13 at 13:58
    
@Kris Mode of transportation would be air/ sea/ land ... not flight -- study the links in the answer. HTH. –  Kris Aug 17 '13 at 12:19
    
I did and the first thing i read was "...is a term used to distinguish substantially different ways to perform..." (emphasis mine) then further on it groups those "ways" by the types of things in my original list. I'm still think it's too ambiguous. Mode is closer to method (of doing something) than to substance (of doing that thing in/on/over/under) –  Kris Aug 17 '13 at 13:03
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