Wallflower Words: Liminal (adj.)

Wallflower Words is a series of Proof (v.) posts dedicated to beautiful but under-appreciated and seldom-encountered words. Those that are never invited to dance at the parlance party; those that deserve more exposure than is currently afforded by contemporary trends in popular English. This is their turn on the dancefloor.

The Word: Liminal (adj.)

Huh? Of or pertaining to a ‘limen’ or threshold.

As in? The ‘rich as plumcake’ Wood Between The Worlds, that magical in-between place in The Magician’s Nephew (in CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, of course).

“The Wood Between The Worlds shares some traits with other liminal spaces, way stations and thresholds, like the bardo of Tibetan Buddhism, or the door-lined hallway that Alice tries so hard to get out of in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But unlike other “between” places in myth and fiction, the Wood is both empty and full. It is a unitary movement, containing everything, the pause before a story is told, in which nothing has happened, and so anything might… On a less abstract level, the Wood is also a library. For someone like Lewis, who lived so much through his reading, each book was potentially a portal to another world.”

— Laura Miller, The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia (which I have finally finished reading, and feel thoroughly nourished by).

{ via The Crystalline Entity }

And?Subliminal‘  — being “below the threshold of conscious perception”— is a relatively common word. As is (though to a somewhat lesser extent) ‘superliminal‘ — being above said threshold, or faster than the speed of light.  But somehow the root ‘liminal’ has fallen out of common parlance. How terribly unreasonable.

[NB. This reminds me of that most existential of questions in 10 Things I Hate About You: “Q: I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be… whelmed?” “A: I think you can in Europe?”… Except that ‘liminal’ is an actual word, whereas ‘whelmed’ is, well, not really, unless you’re talking in the nautical sense.]

3 thoughts on “Wallflower Words: Liminal (adj.)”

  1. Hello,

    Happy to find this via Google Alerts. And thought you’d like to know that my editor wanted me to cut this word! He said he thought it was a little peculiar and pretentious, although my impression is that certain kinds of literary critics use it rather a lot — well, perhaps that’s why he objected to it, since I mostly avoided the jargon in TMB. (I should add that while I pushed back on this note, for the most part he is an amazing editor.)

    1. I’m so glad I blogged about ‘liminal’ and that you actually FOUND my blog about it, but most of all I’m glad that this word — among so MANY words in a whole book — was a very VERY deliberate choice, one that you fought for, and which actually made it through! TMB was a beautiful read, and I identified with it so very much: so THANKYOU, on behalf of every atheistic/agnostic/polytheistic, word-loving Narnian 🙂

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