A deep and narrow ravine cut in soft rock strata by a stream descending steeply to the sea. (Ravine has a similar, though not exact, definition: whereas chine is most often associated with the coasts and cliffsides of England, ravine connotes mountains and streams.) England’s Isle of Wight and the Hampshire coasts are perhaps the best-known examples of this type of landscape, although such formations can also be observed along the coast near Malibu, California, and Big Sur. In a larger context, a chine is an open fissure in a surface; a cleft, crack, crevice, or chasm; a ridge or crest of rocks. The word itself is from Old French eschine, which in turn blends the Germanic ancestor of English shin and the Latin spina, which means “spine.” Chine is also a joint of meat that includes part of the backbone, and the verb to chine means to cut meat along or across the backbone of a carcass—which may have given rise to the perception of water cutting down the spine of land.

Kim Barnes