Is there an expression for an abrupt change in height? I’m looking for a word for the edge of the change, like in the German word Geländekante.

  • Perhaps "discontinuity" would work for you?
    – James
    Aug 27, 2015 at 12:03
  • 2
    Your question is not very specific and also somewhat self contradictory. Is it the change in height you're looking for or the edge? Also, did you attempt to look for a translation of 'Geländekante'? What is the definition (in English) of that word? That might help us better here since this isn't German-English-translation.SE.
    – Mitch
    Aug 27, 2015 at 13:22
  • If you are referring to a human, I believe decapitation is the usual term. Aug 27, 2015 at 14:55
  • 2
    @Eric: There's always the possibility of double pedectomy (amputation of both feet) if you want a less drastic way of reducing height. Or just defenestration if all you want to do is (rapidly) lower the elevation of the entire intact body (by throwing it out of the window! :) Aug 27, 2015 at 15:26
  • @Mitch: I was going to ask the same thing, but instead I looked for a translation myself. Among the example usages there, I noted horizontalen Förderflusses ist es zu verdanken, dass dazu keine Geländekante oder Auffahrrampe im Vergleich zu klassischen Vorbrechanlagen translated as Thanks to the unique technology of the horizontal flow neither a bench edge, nor a loading ramp is required for the feeding in comparison. From which I assume the German word covers a wide range of contexts, not just enormous geological features. But an accurate "translation" would be good. Aug 27, 2015 at 19:24

6 Answers 6


A cliff or precipice is at the boundary to an abrupt change in altitude.



a steep rock face, especially at the edge of the sea.

synonyms: precipice, rock face, crag, bluff, ridge, escarpment, scar,

related: shelf

  • Ok, even if the change is not so dramatic (without bare rock)?
    – parallax
    Aug 27, 2015 at 12:06
  • @parallax: bluff may be less steep, no rocks necessary
    – chillin
    Aug 27, 2015 at 12:08
  • And does the english language differ between the cliff, bluff, ... and the "fictive line" at which the change starts? I mean the edge where the terrain begins to fall. Something like terrain ridge?
    – parallax
    Aug 27, 2015 at 12:14
  • 3
    @parallax: the edge is the edge, could also be brink, threshold, lip, rim
    – chillin
    Aug 27, 2015 at 12:26
  • Yes, I think brink is the word I'm looking for
    – parallax
    Aug 27, 2015 at 12:29

I don't speak German, but looking at this page it seems to me Geländekante can apply to any abrupt change in "level".

Those examples range from "height discontinuities" of hundreds/thousands of feet (cliffs, Ayers Rock) to mere inches (kerb between road and pavement, small mismatch in a loading bay area). So I think the short answer is there is no equivalent "generic" word or common expression for this in English.

1: At the "geological" level there are lots of terms (cliff, escarpment, bluff, etc.), with the same or overlapping meanings.

2: Somewhere in the middle - usually from the "above" perspective, with emphasis on the danger of falling over the edge - are terms like precipice, drop.

3: At smaller scales (the most likely context where you'd need a more general-purpose term) the best bet is probably step (Mind the step = Don't trip over the upcoming small change in level).

  • Given those examples, maybe prominence or protuberance fit? Aug 27, 2015 at 13:58
  • @Mark: Not so sure about prominence, but protuberance would certainly work in some contexts (though it's more "bit sticking up" rather than "change of level"). Aug 27, 2015 at 14:10
  • I was thinking prominence not as the state of being prominent, but rather this definition: a thing that projects from something, especially a projecting feature of the landscape or a protuberance on a part of the body. Aug 27, 2015 at 15:07

If you are specifically referring to a change in height of a person (a human) - then we call that a "spurt", or more specifically a "growth spurt" - when a child grows inches taller, almost overnight.


There are dozens of words for these things that vary in aspect, specificity, origin, and region. Sometimes they emphasize the vertical aspect; other times the line at the top or bottom. Some are for collections of these things; others for singular instances.

  • cliff
  • bluff
  • breaks
  • palisades
  • scarp
  • escarpment
  • fault
  • face
  • ridge
  • cuesta
  • wall
  • hogback
  • pediment
  • cleaver
  • sérac
  • kame
  • buttress
  • cornice
  • rampart
  • cirque
  • headwall
  • nunatuk
  • defile
  • quebrada
  • huérfano
  • rimland
  • badlands
  • yardang
  • arête
  • combs ridge
  • banco
  • postpile
  • malpais
  • louderback
  • castle rock
  • tsegi
  • slab
  • pali
  • morro

Some of these terms are common and general; others rare and specific. There are many more. Some are found in every dictionary; others only in specialty lexicons devoted to geography. One of the latter can be found at the web site Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape.

  • I've never heard of several of those. But you missed out the only one I can think of for height changes that can be traversed in a single movement - step. Aug 27, 2015 at 13:37
  • @FumbleFingers Be careful with step: it also means a comparatively level and treeless plain, which is often spelled steppe. That version is actually derived from Russian степь (step’). A different sort of steps occur in the giant stairs of the Grand Staircase–Escalate National Monument and storied—and storeyed—pages of the Book Cliffs of the Colorado Uplift, where the landscape looks truly like eald enta geweorc yet on a scale inconceivable in the British Isles.
    – tchrist
    Aug 27, 2015 at 14:26
  • I'd always spell it steppe(s) anyway - not that that would help resolve ambiguity in speech. But at the time I answered, all the existing answers were at the "geological feature" level, whereas it seems to me OP's German "target to match" has much broader application. In any real-world context where the step up/down is a matter of inches, there's no chance of ambiguity. Aug 27, 2015 at 15:21
  • @FumbleFingers It might just be edge; I’m not sure.
    – tchrist
    Aug 27, 2015 at 19:43

Scarp, or escarpment. Wikipedia:

  1. Cliff, a significant vertical, or near vertical, rock exposure
  2. Escarpment, a steep slope or long rock that occurs from erosion or faulting and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations

Some comments clarified that the context is terrain.

In this case, you could say The road (or path, or ground, or whatever) dropped off sharply OR rose sharply. If you google these phrases, you'll see they're extremely common.

(Next time, could you provide the context in your question, please?)

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