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What Does 'Liminal' Mean?

Jewel Enrile
Jewel Enrile
March 16, 2022
What Does 'Liminal' Mean?
Illustrations by Yuxuan Wu

You may be wondering where the trend of "liminal spaces" originated. Well, Lockcard is here to guide you through the definitions!

Meanings and Origins

Liminal is an adjective. The word itself comes from the Latin "limen," or threshold. You use it to describe transitional processes, or anything in relation to occupying a space beyond a boundary or threshold. Typically, it is used to describe places.

It is different from the word "liminality," though they are related.

Liminality is a noun that refers to the feeling of this transitional process, often used in anthropology. It is often an ambiguous, disorienting feeling of transitioning from one phase to another.

But... What Does It Mean?

It may be best to use examples to explain how the word liminal and liminality works!

Imagine going out of your apartment to face a long hallway. You want to get to the elevator at the end of this floor. The hallway stretching from your apartment door to the elevator is a transitory space, and therefore liminal.

When you go into the elevator itself, it's a liminal space for being in between all those floors.

Liminality, meanwhile, refers to a liminal state that isn't concrete or physical. For example, your high school graduation may be near. That weird, suspended period of time and the emotions that come with it when you know things are about to end is liminality.

Have you ever transferred schools or moved houses? There are multiple liminal spaces and feelings of liminality coming up because of the many transitory states at play. You are transitioning geographically, losing touch with friends or family, and starting a new life all in one go.

How To Use 'Liminal' in a Sentence:

  • I realized while travelling that being in the airport was being in a liminal space. 
  • You should check out the creepy hallway we discovered behind the school! It’s definitely a liminal space. 

Need more words defined? Download Lockcard as a handy dictionary app. If you need to retain your vocabulary, we will send you quiz notifications to your liking!

Charlotte Chen, Designer @Duolingo

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