• limbo •
lim-bo • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. Catholic Church: A place for innocent souls that do not fit clearly into heaven or hell, such as infants who died before baptism or people who died before the birth of Christ. 2. A state of having been forgotten or prevented from doing something—or both.
Notes: Miracle of miracles: a word in English spelled the way it is pronounced (and pronounced the way it is spelled). Of course, it is a borrowed word, but just the same, it is English today. There is another word, pronounced and spelled identically, that refers to a West Indian dance while bending backwards to pass under a horizontal pole that is lowered in the course of the dance. But that limbo seems to be a different word.
In Play: People may be left in limbo thousands of ways: "Susan Liddy-Gates has left Phil Anders in limbo; since he embarrassed her at the office picnic she hasn't accepted any of his calls or messages,." Things not human may also be left in limbo: "The whole low-income housing project is in limbo for lack of funding."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an adaptation of the Latin word limbus "edge, border", a place so-named because it is on the edge of Hades. Limbus seems to be related to Sanskrit lambate "hangs down", which would put it in the same family as English limp and, possibly, limb, since the extremities of tree limbs are usually flexible if not limp. The best guess is that the name of the West Indian dance is unrelated. Some think this word comes from Africa but the closest word found there is Zulu limbo "coarse cloth". Others think that it is a nonce creation from limber along the lines of daddy-o, sicko, pinko, and the like. I'm not taking sides on this one. (Let us not leave Susan Ardith Lee in limbo another second, wondering if we are going to thank her for suggesting today's Good Word. Thank you, Susan.)
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