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I'm referring to something like the brown areas in this picture:

enter image description here

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do you mean the road shoulders? – Jim Mar 27 '14 at 3:16
What does this stand for in "something like this"? – Kris Mar 27 '14 at 5:59
Indeed, I thought the answer was "Arizona". You need to include an arrow in photos like that. Every single computer operating system now has a thing where you can add an arrow to a picture. On your Mac just click "Annotate". – Joe Blow Mar 27 '14 at 7:26
@Joe Blow How about now? – janoChen Mar 27 '14 at 8:52
@JoeBlow This is StackExchange, you should use freehand circles, not arrows. – IQAndreas Mar 27 '14 at 8:59
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The edge of the road (as others have mentioned) is the shoulder.

Beyond the shoulder is the verge.

The whole strip of land the road follows is called a right-of-way in some places and a reserve in other places.

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You know, it's often called the "hard shoulder". It's one of those cases where you can have a hard shoulder or a soft shoulder, but, for no real reason people to some extent slightly prefer to say "hard shoulder" when just referring to the shoulder (with no particular concern whether it is hard or soft). – Joe Blow Mar 27 '14 at 7:24
Yes, that's when it's paved, and so vehicles can safely stop from speed, or stop without sinking to their axles :-) – andy256 Mar 27 '14 at 7:29
Hey Andy -- you know (A) I'm not certain that "hard shoulder" always means PAVED, TARMAC in all English-speaking area. For example in Australia, a "hard shoulder" means the shoulder is dirt, but, it is correctly formed, perhaps gravel (like a gravel road, you know?) whereas a soft shoulder means the shoulder is rubbish, ie it is just sand or untamed, as it were, natural earth (as opposed to "well-made, compressed, perhaps gravel"). So it's an interesting one. Note too that "hard shoulder" is (I think) never at all used for the actual "fully correctly made" emergency lane on a freeway. – Joe Blow Mar 27 '14 at 7:34
No, I didn't know you weren't certain :-) But I do agree with you, it's not always paved. P'raps I should have said that's usually when it's paved ... . – andy256 Mar 27 '14 at 7:47
Yes I believe there may be regional variation in that usage, in different English-language areas... – Joe Blow Mar 27 '14 at 7:49

The answer to your question largely depends upon the context.

If you mean the land on which the highway passes through, this is known as a right of way. Essentially, it is land granted for passage of highways and railways. And, typically the zone of the right of way extends quite a bit on either side of the roadway.

If you are referring to the waste area (undeveloped/uninhabited land) on either side when driving through a desert, you usually will refer to this by the specific biome or flora you see. For example: salt flats, desert, cactus patch, red rock mesas, etc.

If you mean the strip of land immediately adjacent to a road, often covered in gravel, this is known as the shoulder of the road. This area is typically used for stopping at roadside, or for the passage of emergency vehicles.

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In some places I think it's also called berm. – Bradd Szonye Mar 27 '14 at 6:05
@BraddSzonye I've heard that term, too. – David M Mar 27 '14 at 6:31
andy256’s verge is a good one too. I +1’d you both. – Bradd Szonye Mar 27 '14 at 6:33
Hmm. That was magnificently unclear! I understand a berm to be a raised bank (of earth/soil). It would apply to a road if a road was built on top. – andy256 Mar 27 '14 at 7:09
A berm is utterly different and has no connection, whatsoever, to this in any way. (It could be that some people use "berm" to mean shoulder, but then some people use potato to mean teacup.) – Joe Blow Mar 27 '14 at 7:25

The berm.

Ref.: Merriam-Webster Online


2 : the shoulder of a road


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Sure, that might be a rare technical term for it, but then why not just use 'shoulder' (if that's right). – Mitch Mar 27 '14 at 17:13
berm isn't that uncommon. – Oldcat Mar 27 '14 at 19:06

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