During the second-to-last chapter of Pony Boot Camp I stumbled across a problem I had solved for myself long ago (or so I thought): the – partly blurry – difference between “row” and “line” in the sense of spatial arrangement.
“So it came to pass that Fifteen found her slender self harnessed to the first sulky in line. Consequently it was first in row as we were trotting along the main road south of the camp.”
Although colloquially interchangeable in my native language, too, I apply the following rules to it:
- “Reihe” describes the formation of objects or beings positioned one behind the other.
- “Linie” describes the formation of objects or beings positioned one next to the other.
Can I justify this choices? Sure, and I will in the next paragraph. So I applied it to the chapter’s first draft. But checking the two terms’ definition whilst writing the final version led me into thinking that there’s a far weaker distinction between them in English. Then I even arrived at a point where I believed to see “row” being applied mainly to a side-by-side arrangement, and “line” to its counterpart. Then I drifted back to the one-fits-all definition. And then I thought, “fuck it!”, and changed everything back to the way it had been in the first place.
The Duden, arguably the dictionary with the best reputation and greatest influence in Germany, supports both definitions for both terms (1)(2). So does Merriam-Webster for the English point of view (3)(4). My personal rule derives from the military use of “Linie”/”line”: “In Linie antreten” means “to line up” means one soldier next to his comrade. “Feindliche Linien” are “enemy lines”, where the adversaries are standing abreast. They are only standing in a “row” whilst waiting for their food in front of the field kitchen. What, you say a group of people waiting like this is called a “line”? Nope, since I write in British English, it’s called a “queue”. (Phew, that was a near thing!)
What all this boils down to is this: Language, if used correctly, is a path to great textual and stylistic clarity – but it also offers short cuts and cul-de-sacs en masse, and normally I am the first one trying to chart the wrong turns. I do hope the gentle reader has followed nonetheless – thoughts and comments on this topic are very welcome.