• limn •
lim • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: To sketch out, to outline in detail, literally or figuratively.
Notes: This lovely word is made up mostly of three of the most beautiful consonants in English (see The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English, p. 9), called 'sonorants' for their sonorant sounds. This is a word that did not get along with its family (that of illuminate) and went out on its own to become a wholly different word. It is now completely Anglicized, but hasn't had time to produce a family of its own.
In Play: The literal sense of today's word is "to sketch": "As Meta sat across the table sipping her wine, Winfred limned the elegant features of her face on his linen napkin." In the figurative sense, this word is often accompanied by in or out: "As she sat there in the candlelight, Winfred also limned out his plans for their wedding and their life together thereafter."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the descendant of Middle English limnen "illuminate", as to illuminate a manuscript, to draw decorative pictures around the first word and in the margins. This meaning evaporated in the 17th century. Limn is a reduction of lumine, itself a reduction of illuminate, hence it refers to illumination in the sense of sketching pictures on a scroll or handwritten manuscript. The root goes back to Latin lumen, lumin- "light", the result of Proto-Indo-European leuk- "light" with a -men suffix. The Germanic languages added a -t suffix, which produced German Licht and English light. The Slavic languages apparently avoided suffixation, resulting in Russian luch' "ray". (At this point I would like to limn in a hint of my gratitude to Lynn Morris for suggesting today's Good Word.)
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