Word of The Day for Wednesday, October 27, 2010


li•men (LY-muhn)  n

a threshold of a physiological or psychological response: point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to generate a response 

liminal adjective; liminality adverb

Synonyms: threshold
Related Words:: limit (from O.Fr. limite "a boundary," from L. limitem "a boundary, embankment between fields, border," related to limen)
preliminary (from prae "before" + limen)
subliminal (from sub "below" + limen)
eliminate (from ex "off, out"  + limine, ablative of limen)
sublime (from sub "up to" + limen)

Sentence Examples:
• A subliminal association, then, may have its strength measured by the number of repetitions needed to bring it above the limen.
• Our thesis has not been controverted, namely that the upper limen of feeble-mindedness should be determined by ascertaining the limiting degree of intelligence necessary to make a living in the various occupations afforded by society, and not by the study of pathological institutional material.
• The in-between landscapes of the horizontal city are liminal because they remain at the margins awaiting a societal desire to inscribe them with value and status.

The Storyline
Crossing the threshold was also reaching the limen of another epiphany: she had littered her life with one distraction after another and that was no longer sufficient to keep her self-doubts at bay.

1895, Latin  limen transverse beam in a door frame, threshold

Sources: Wordsmith, Merriam-Webster, Online Etymology

Why This Word:
Limen is obviously a useful concept for psychologists, physiologists and social scientists. But limen and, in particular, liminal have also been appropriated by cultural theorists and their ilk who see limen not as a line but as a space. It's easy to see why the idea of a transitional space, neither here nor there and yet also both here and there, in between. Here, liminal is being used in a very different sense then it is for the psychologist or physiologist. The liminal person is in the process of moving between social statuses. The limen is the space they occupy during that transition.

While in the liminal state, human beings are stripped of anything that might differentiate them from their fellow human beings—they are in between the social structure, temporarily fallen through the cracks, so to speak, and it is in these cracks, in the interstices of social structure, that they are most aware of themselves. Yet liminality is a midpoint between a starting point and an ending point, and as such it is a temporary state that ends when the initiate is reincorporated into the social structure.
But you don't have to read pretentious academic journals to appreciate the concept of the limen, a threshold of awareness or change.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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