Printable Version
Pronunciation: lim-bik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. (Science) Borderline, at the edge, as the limbic region of the eye between the cornea and sclera. 2. Pertaining to that system of the brain that controls emotion, memory, and the olfactory senses (smell).

Notes: Limbic is used in the general vocabulary mostly in relation to the limbic system of the brain. It is the adjective for limbus "distinctive border or edge". The adverb is the expectable limbically and the noun would be limbicity.

In Play: Limbic hasn't nudged its way very far out in public; it sticks close to science, referring mostly to the limbic system of the brain: "Limbic capitalism refers to global industries that encourage excessive consumption with appeals to that part of the brain that deals with pleasure and motivation." We could try using it even more metaphorically. Since the limbic system is responsible for our emotions, we might use it as an erudite synonym for emotional: "Paul's reaction to the break-up with his fiance was quite limbic."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin limbus "border, edge, hem", which Latin inherited from PIE lembh-/lombh-, a nasalized version of leb-/lob- "hang loosely; lip", origin of English lip and lobe. The meaning apparently referred to a fringe, something that hangs loosely from the border of clothes. The nasalized variant also went into the making limb, which may be seen as the fringes of trees and animals. Since fringes are also limp, English developed the adjectives limp and limber from the same PIE word. Limbo, in the sense of "a position of indecision", comes from the Italian word for the purgatories on the outskirts of Hell for pre-Christian saints (Limbo of the Patriarchs), waiting for redemption by Christ, and Limbo of Infants. The latter is permanent because, although infants die too young to have sinned, they are not freed from original sin. The Caribbean dance, limbo, is a colloquialization of limber, like daddy-o. (Now let's all applaud Frank Myers, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, SUNY Stony Brook, for his decade of participation in the Agora, suggesting Good Words as good as today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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