Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2015-05-30
This looks like a rare but persistent mis-spelling. Starting in 2003, I found a couple papers written by post-grads and a professor, (the latter has since acknowledged it as a inherited spelling error). Another example from the scholarly literature:
—The study of classic Maya architecture. David Webster. Latin American Research Review v32.n2 (Spring 1997): pp219(14).
“Ball courts were identified in the Maya mind with particular creation stories and sacrifice and were limnal places connecting the underworld with the earth’s surface and the heavens.”
Google produces over 50 uses in the .edu domain—just a spelling error? Or real eggcorn?
I came across this problematic spelling yesterday while preparing for a lecture on Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. The editors of the 9th edition of Teaching with the Norton Anthology (Archimedes, et al.) describe Clarissa as a “liminal figure in the novel” (676). Knowing my students wait like jackals to pounce on any erroneous information I may try to gloss, I decided to confirm the spelling. In a recent coincidence, I had edited a poem entitled “THE BRAKE LIGHTS LIMNED THE INEFFABLE MOMENT OF BEING.” Needless to say, I was curious. I was working in the Student Success Center at the moment, and most of the dictionaries there are for foundation students (no OEDs). I tired a thesaurus and a dictionary of word usage—neither the ideal tool. I found some interesting yet inconclusive information. From the measly entries I had access to, I came to understand there is an art term “limn” (v) and a technical term used in medicine: “liminal.” Alas, I turned to Google and discovered this site. For me, this mystery is definitely persistent.
Last edited by Elliebug (2016-04-06 16:22:24)
Liminal and limned are used appropriately in the two examples you cite, Elliebug. Mrs. Dalloway seems to be very much about boundaries, thresholds, and limits of different sorts, however porous: see, for instance, . The first, liminal, comes from the same roots as limit and limbo.
The other, limn, is cognate with illuminate, as in an illuminated manuscript. Whether brake lights can illuminate a moment of being is a question of poetic licence, I guess. I see how you might be confused by that usage, since that “moment of being” looks a lot like the transitional state of initiation described as liminal. There might have been a conscious word choice there that flavoured the moment with additional significance.
I regret exploiting the opportunity your post offers to confuse things further. Look at these usages:
I am amazed to see that you trail through the water limbed in light, trailing a green glow behind you as you move.
Then in an instant round the golden gates
Thronged cherubs limbed in light and softer forms
Of seraphs and the gentle presences
Of angels various in loveliness
According to the Online ED, a plain old limb is from:
O.E. lim “limb, joint, main branch of a tree,” from P.Gmc., from PIE base *lei- “to bend, be movable, be nimble.” The parasitic -b began to appear late 1500s for no reason. In O.E., M.E., and until lately in dialects, it could mean “any visible body part.”
Parasitic? We’ve used the more generous term superstitious on this site. Further confusion comes from the use of “limb” in astronomy, since the 17th c., to refer to the illuminated or visible limit of a heavenly body. So the limit, the edge, the threshold of things can be liminal, limned and limbed, all at the same time, but all meaning something every so slightly different. And probably feeding slightly parasitically and superstitiously off of each other.
(I hesitate to mention that I am a limnologist, by the way.)
If we consider the term in the Webster quotation a misspelling, we infer the writer means the places existed in two physical planes. This seems most logical given the context. If we look further in to the definition of limn (to portray or depict) used in art, there may be a possibility (?) the author intended the places to be illuminated. I don’t know enough about art to really get a feel for the definition of limn or limnal.
David, Perhaps J.S. Blankenship would consider re-titling his poem “THE BRAKE LIGHTS LIMNED THE LIMINAL MOMENT OF BEING.”
BTW, my last name is Baird, and my son is named David ;)
Thank you for adding limbs to the fire.
It is just possible that the poem you have cited, David, is not an example. The poet may really have meant that the cherubs were limbed in light.
Four more examples of this interesting substitution:
: “In the gloom, her form was limbed in silver light.”
: “her body was limbed in – surrounded by – became fire!”
: “, they are rational and logical, meaning they meet the qualifying criteria of ‘science’ as
this category was limbed in the mind of H.P. Blavatsky.”
: “The young women were limbed in light while viewing what I think must have been the display case of goodies.”