or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Neither One Nor The Other

After reading this Slate.com piece about Limbo and how the Catholic church has done a volte-face on the subject (wee innocent babies, it is now declared, don't go to that neither-nor in-between place any more: they get to go to Heaven!), I wrote a rant, and then rewrote it, and then thought the hell with it. The whole belief system is so ludicrous that it makes fun of itself. It doesn't need any help from me.

For what it's worth, I'm not anti-Catholic, any more than I'm anti-Sikh, anti-Scientology, or anti-Pastafarian. I think they're all equally nonsensical. If at gunpoint I had to choose a religion, I guess I'd choose the Unitarian Universalists, since they really don't give a fuck what you believe as long as you're nice, and you've gotta admire that sort of ecumenism stretched as far as it will go.

Now. Where did the word "Limbo" come from? (The place, not the dance. Nobody's quite sure where the name of the dance came from, though it's probably African.)

It derives from a Latin word, "limbus". If you're anything like me, that will immediately call three words to mind: "limb", "limbic", and "limn". The last one's a long shot, I know: the last consonant is wrong. (But it sounds just like "limb"!) The other two, though: I knew there had to be a connection there.

And here it is. "Limbus" means "border", because, according to now apparently obsolete Catholic theology, Limbo was on the border of Hell.

"Limb" meaning something like "arm" or "leg" doesn't derive directly from "limbo", apparently, but it was influenced by it. There are two different uses of "limb" in English. The less common one means "edge", and refers, usually, to the curved edge an astronomical body. If you've ever read a news story about an eclipse that mention the moon's limb, that's what they were talking about. It has nothing to do with arms.

"Limb" meaning "extended part", as on a tree or a mammal, popped up independently in English, but its spelling was altered by the existence of the other "limb".

"Limbic", as in "limbic system", which is to say the part of the brain that deals with emotions, is related to the Latin as well: it forms the border between the brain stem and the more advanced brain lobes.

I thought "limn" might be related because it means "to depict", and you make a drawing, and a drawing has edges...okay, that wasn't going to happen. As it turns out, I've done "limn" already, and I should have remembered, but didn't, that it's actually related to "illuminate", as in an illuminated manuscript.


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