Thursday, January 21, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Limit

It’s weird. I would have sword I did this one already. But it’s not on my list so here we go.
Limit showed up in the fourteenth century as a verb and then the fifteenth century as a noun. It comes from the Old French limiter (the noun being limite), which is from the classical Latin limitare, to limit. Not any big changes here. However there are some other variations for us to look at and go “What the hell?”
Eliminate is obviously related. It didn’t show up until the mid sixteenth century, and back then it specifically meant to remove something or throw it outside, not taking on its more figurative meaning until the early eighteenth century. It comes from the classical Latin eliminatus, from the verb eliminare, to eliminate, which is actually from a phrase, ex limine, which literally means from the threshold—ex means off or out and limine is from limen, threshold, which is from limitare. To eliminate is to throw something out over the threshold.
Now, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that liminal is related, although it’s actually a fairly recent word, having shown up in 1870. It also comes to us from limen, and they added the suffix -al, which means of or related to. Liminal is relating to thresholds. The word preliminary is older, having shown up in the mid seventeenth century, from the French préliminaire and Medieval Latin praeliminaris. The prae- is from the classical Latin prae, before, and the rest is limen. So a preliminary is a threshold before?
This next word might surprise you at first, but it makes sense the more you think about it. Sublime showed up in the late sixteenth century from the French sublime and classical Latin sublimus, which means upward. Which seems counterintuitive since sub- usually means under. It’s just that in this case, it means up from under, just to be extra confusing. With the -limus being from limen, sublime means up over a threshold. I guess the idea was that something sublime was lifted over a threshold of the not-sublime. Or something.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
Dictionary of Medieval Latin


  1. Or something.
    So, next time I eliminate something, I need to throw it out of house? That could get messy.

  2. So... I'm thinking eliminate of bodily stuff, and going over a threshold... What can I say? I'm a teenage boy today.

  3. The origin of eliminate is interesting!


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