or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Over and Out

Convergence? Coincidence? You tell me.

A couple of weeks ago there was a posting on Languagehat.com about an incorrect usage of the word "limn", a word I knew, which means "to describe" or "to depict". (The word "limn" originally referred to illumination, which is to say the illustration of manuscripts, and it's derived from the same Latin root--"illuminate" literally means "to fill with light".) It turns out that the original writer had intended the word "limen" (a word I didn't know), and he or an overzealous copy-editor had dropped the "-e-".

Now, what does "limen" even mean? It's the Latin word for "threshold", and you've seen it before, with a slightly altered spelling, in the word "subliminal"--literally "below the threshold (of conscious observation)".

So here's the coincidence part: I have, as usual, a list of words that it occurs to me I need to look up--I've done this most of my life--and today, one of the words I was curious about was "eliminate". And guess what? It's the same root! "E-" is the same as "ex-", which is to say "out of", and "-limin-" is the same as our "limen", so to eliminate something is to throw it outdoors--to literally chuck it over the threshold.


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