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  1. #1
    StuartATL is offline Newbie
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    Post "In the desert" vs. "On the desert"

    I am the dramaturg for a production of Sam Shepard's play "True West." The characters in the play always refer to living "on the desert" rather than "in the desert." Likewise, the say things like "out on the desert you get to know what's real." My actors struggle with it not sounding natural to them to say "on the desert".

    Researching the two phrases online has been difficult since desert can be an adjective ("on the desert island") but I have found many instances of apparently standard use of "on the desert" as Shepard uses it in the play. For example, there is a Johnny Cash song called "Lost on the desert."

    We use "on" for vast, flat, boundary-less geographic locations in other instances: "on the sea/plains/mesa/prairie," but not usually for desert.

    So can someone shed some light on this?

    Is this a regionalism? (the play takes place in Southern California, USA)
    Is "on the desert" archaic or waning in usage?
    Is there a semantic difference?

    It's a minor point in the script, but Shepard is always so specific in his choices, I know there's something here. Any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks!
    Stuart

  2. #2
    Rover_KE is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: "In the desert" vs. "On the desert"

    Only in the desert sounds right to me.

    Rover

  3. #3
    TheParser is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: "In the desert" vs. "On the desert"

    Quote Originally Posted by StuartATL View Post
    I am the dramaturg for a production of Sam Shepard's play "True West." The characters in the play always refer to living "on the desert" rather than "in the desert." Likewise, the say things like "out on the desert you get to know what's real." My actors struggle with it not sounding natural to them to say "on the desert".

    Researching the two phrases online has been difficult since desert can be an adjective ("on the desert island") but I have found many instances of apparently standard use of "on the desert" as Shepard uses it in the play. For example, there is a Johnny Cash song called "Lost on the desert."

    We use "on" for vast, flat, boundary-less geographic locations in other instances: "on the sea/plains/mesa/prairie," but not usually for desert.

    So can someone shed some light on this?

    Is this a regionalism? (the play takes place in Southern California, USA)
    Is "on the desert" archaic or waning in usage?
    Is there a semantic difference?

    It's a minor point in the script, but Shepard is always so specific in his choices, I know there's something here. Any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks!
    Stuart
    ********** NOT a teacher **********

    Hello, Stuart.

    (1) You said that you welcomed any help. So may I run a few ideas

    past you?

    (2) Those two prepositions drive me crazy, too.

    (3) As you said, the playwright probably had a reason for using on.

    (4) Here are some sentences from a very authoritative grammar book:

    The players were practicing on the field (surface for sports).
    The cows were grazing in the field (enclosed area).

    She was sitting on the grass (short grass).
    She was sitting in the grass (long grass).

    My example: He is sitting on the bed./ He is sitting in the bed.

    (5) I know nothing about that play, but is there is any possibility that

    the playwright was emphasizing the metaphorical use of on? Perhaps

    in the desert would be too literal? Is he referring to the flat nature of the

    desert rather than the enclosed area of the place?

    (6) Hopefully, someone will post "the" answer. If you find "the" answer,

    I hope that you will share it with us.

    THANK YOU

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