Quicksand is an ordinary bed of sand so saturated with water that it has become soupy and unstable. Most commonly found along beaches, riverbanks, lakeshores, and marshes, or near underground springs, quicksand can be triggered by earthquakes, which intensify the pressure of existing groundwater. As water flows in and fills the voids between sand particles, the friction between the particles diminishes, the bonds of the silicon molecules loosen, and a formerly solid bed of sand can suddenly become a viscous, incoherent mixture. The quick in quicksand suggests the speed with which sand in this condition moves, and also “quickness” in the sense of something that seems endowed with life. A cliché of B-movie adventures, quicksand has also been invoked by literary masters to vivify other engulfing forces, such as deceit and greed. Being caught in actual quicksand need not be fatal, however; the beds are usually only several feet deep, and although quicksands vary in buoyancy, it is usually easier to float in quicksand than in water. Struggling too much can indeed cause a person in quicksand to sink, but by relaxing, lying on the back, and slowly moving the arms, it is possible to float gradually to the shore and safety.

Emily Hiestand