Use this forum to discuss past Good Words.
User avatar
Dr. Goodword
Site Admin
Posts: 5112
Joined: Wed Feb 02, 2005 9:28 am
Location: Lewisburg, PA


Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat Dec 02, 2017 12:24 am

• limbo •

Pronunciation: 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 suspension from having been forgotten or kept from completion by some obstacle.

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.)
• The Good Dr. Goodword

User avatar
Grand Panjandrum
Posts: 5542
Joined: Thu Sep 28, 2006 9:31 am
Location: Finger Lakes, NY

Re: Limbo

Postby Slava » Sat Dec 02, 2017 12:34 pm

Well, as long as we're guessing about the dance, I'll toss out what crossed my mind, feeble as it is, while reading this.

If limbo #1 is a form of suspension, and you have to suspend the top half or more of your body to do the limbo, why not say the two words are related? :?
Life is like playing chess with chessmen who each have thoughts and feelings and motives of their own.

User avatar
Grand Panjandrum
Posts: 4120
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2009 6:16 pm
Location: Land of the Flat Water

Re: Limbo

Postby LukeJavan8 » Sat Dec 02, 2017 1:12 pm

I hear the word used most by DUI probation persons waiting
for court and not knowing when it will occur: they are in limbo.
-----please, draw me a sheep-----

George Kovac
Posts: 233
Joined: Wed Mar 02, 2016 11:54 am
Location: Miami

Re: Limbo

Postby George Kovac » Mon Dec 04, 2017 12:00 pm

Ah, limbo...

We use this word all the time to describe an uncertain state: “The company told its lawyers to stop drafting documents until further notice because the proposed merger was in limbo.” “Her application for the assistant’s job is in limbo because a new boss for that department was just appointed.” “Because of his injury, his chance of starting in the championship game is in limbo.”

Limbo originated as a theological construct of the Catholic Church to resolve the eschatological conundrum described by Dr. Goodword. From there, “limbo” became a useful metaphor to describe secular situations involving uncertainty, stasis and likely disappointment.

The Catholic Church, which invented limbo, recognized that the concept was based on speculative and thin theological evidence. Ultimately the Catholic Church abolished the concept. See the report issued in April 2007 by the papal International Theological Commission entitled “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized.”

That reversal by the Catholic Church resulted in several horrible linguistic and theological consequences.

As to the linguistic consequences, the International Theological Commission arrogantly failed to consider the metaphorical loss to language if there was no more limbo. How will English speakers fill that lacuna?

As to the theological consequences, well, it just isn’t fair to all those babies, like me, born before 2007 who risked limbo if their parents hadn’t rush them off to the local baptistery. Furthermore, I remember hearing a sermon from a local priest announcing the new policy. He warned his parishioners that just because the church abolished limbo, no sinner should get his hopes up about purgatory and hell.
“The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words.” Colum McCann “But Always Meeting Ourselves” New York Times, June 15, 2009

Return to “Good Word Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests