The gases that surround us are called "atmosphere." Planets without air can still have an unbreathable atmosphere.

In space there is no atmosphere, so what surrounds a person is called "space" or "vacuum."

Underwater is not called an atmosphere either because it's liquid instead of gas.

What I'm searching for is a word that means "the molecules directly outside our bodies." Whether they are gas, liquid, breathable, or extremely sparse/non-existent.

EDIT: this isn't an answer, but a more boiled down description -- "immediate molecular environment" is what I'm trying to get into a word

  • 5
    'Medium' is closely related, but not spot on. Mar 26, 2021 at 17:17
  • @EdwinAshworth Much better than environment. It just needs to be qualified according to context by an adjective such as gaseous, aquatic, interplanetary or atmospheric. I do not put this as an answer, ceding precedence to you.
    – Anton
    Mar 26, 2021 at 18:15
  • The plural of 'gas' is usually 'gases'. Mar 26, 2021 at 18:20
  • @Anton But the 'it needs to be particularised by a premodifier' disqualifies it as a valid answer to a SWR. Mar 26, 2021 at 19:05

1 Answer 1


Your local setting could be descried very generally as your environment. It simply describes the surroundings or conditions in which something exists, but makes no indication of what those conditions actually are. An object could exist in an underwater environment, or an atmospheric environment, or in the environment of space.

  • I'd played with this one, but in tends to inspire thoughts of a much larger perspective than just the molecules around a person. Stuff like sight, sound, and feeling. I'm hoping to find something a little more clinical. Perhaps "molecular environment"
    – Seph Reed
    Mar 26, 2021 at 16:52
  • Environment is inadequate and insufficient, being too general. It does not relate specifically to the molecules near to us. Nor is it restricted to the molecules, because it may also involve the radiative (illumination, sun, starlight), acoustic (in water or air) or particulate (dust or organisms in air or space, organisms in water) surroundings. If it is used it should be qualified by at least one adjective or adjectival phrase.
    – Anton
    Mar 26, 2021 at 18:09
  • You could compromise and use immediate environment instead of a single word if nothing better is suggested.
    – Davo
    Mar 26, 2021 at 20:43

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