limb (n.1) Look up limb at
"part or member," Old English lim "limb of the body; any part of an animal body, distinct from the head and trunk;" main branch of a tree," from Proto-Germanic *limu- (source also of Old Norse limr "limb," lim "small branch of a tree"), a variant of *liþu- (source of Old English liþ, Old Frisian lith, Old Norse liðr, Gothic liþus "a limb;" and with prefix ga-, source of German Glied "limb, member").

The parasitic -b began to appear late 1500s for no etymological reason (perhaps by influence of limb (n.2)). The Old English plural was often limu; limen and other plural forms in -n lasted into Middle English. Since c. 1400 especially of a leg; in Victorian English this usage was somewhat euphemistic, "out of affected or prudish unwillingness to use the word leg" [Century Dictionary]. However in Old and Middle English, and until lately in dialects, it could mean "any visible body part":
The lymmes of generacion were shewed manyfestly. [Caxton, "The subtyl historyes and fables of Esope, Auyan, Alfonce, and Poge," 1484]
Hence, limb-lifter "fornicator" (1570s). Limb of the law was 18c. derisive slang for a lawyer or police officer. To go out on a limb in figurative sense "enter a risky situation" is from 1897. Alliterative life and limb in reference to the body inclusively is from c. 1200. Obsolete limb-meal (adv.) "limb-from-limb, piecemeal" is from late Old English lim-mælum.
limb (n.2) Look up limb at
late 14c., "edge of a quadrant or other instrument," from Latin limbus "ornamental border, hem, fringe, edge," a word of uncertain origin. Klein suggests it is cognate with Sanskrit lambate "hang down limply" and English limp (adj.). Tucker writes that "the sense appears to be that of something which twists, goes round, or binds ... not of something which hangs loose," and suggests cognates in Lithuanian linta "ribbon," Old Norse linnr "whether." De Vaan tends to agree with Klein and writes, "In view of the phoneme *b, the very specific meaning of limbus and its absence from the oldest literature, the etymology remains uncertain." Astronomical sense of "edge of the disk of a heavenly body" first attested 1670s. Related: Limbal.
limbate (adj.) Look up limbate at
"edged, bordered," in botany, of flowers in which one color is edged by another, 1826, from Late Latin limbatus, from Latin limbus "border, hem, fringe, edge" (see limb (n.2)). Related: Limbation.
limber (n.) Look up limber at
"detachable forepart of a field-gun carriage," 1620s, alteration of Middle English lymer (early 15c.), earlier lymon (c. 1400), probably from Old French limon "shaft," a word perhaps of Celtic origin, or possibly from Germanic and related to limb (n.1). Compare related Spanish limon "shaft," leman "helmsman."

The nautical limber "hole cut in floor timbers to allow water to drain" (1620s), however, appears to be unrelated; perhaps from French lumière "hole, perforation," literally "light."
limber (adj.) Look up limber at
"pliant, flexible," 1560s, of uncertain origin, possibly from limb (n.1) on notion of supple boughs of a tree [Barnhart], or from limp (adj.) "flaccid" [Skeat], or somehow from Middle English lymer "shaft of a cart" (see limber (n.)), but the late appearance of the -b- in that word argues against it. Related: Limberness. Dryden used limber-ham (see ham (n.1) in the "joint" sense) as a name for a character "perswaded by what is last said to him, and changing next word."
limber (v.) Look up limber at
"make pliant or supple," 1748, from limber (adj.). Related: Limbered; limbering. With up (adv.) by 1901. The military sense "attach a limber to a gun" (1783) is from limber (n.).
limbic (adj.) Look up limbic at
"pertaining to or characteristic of a border," 1879, in anatomy, in reference to the brain, from French limbique (1878, Broca), from limbe (14c.), from Latin limbus "edge" (see limb (n.2)). Limbic system is attested from 1950.
limbless (adj.) Look up limbless at
1590s, from limb (n.1) + -less. Related: Limblessness.
limbo (n.2) Look up limbo at
dance in which the dancer bends backward and passes under a bar, 1956, of West Indian origin, probably an alteration of limber (adj.).
limbo (n.1) Look up limbo at
region supposed to exist on the border of Hell, reserved for pre-Christian saints (Limbus patrum) and unbaptized infants (Limbus infantum);" c. 1300, from Latin limbo, ablative singular of limbus "edge, border" (see limb (n.2)). In frequent use in Latin phrases such as in limbo (patrum), which is entirely Latin, but the in was taken as English and hence the Latin ablative became the English noun. Figurative sense of "condition of neglect or oblivion, place of confinement" is from 1640s.
Limburger (n.) Look up Limburger at
famously pungent type of cheese, 1870, short for Limburger cheese (1817), from Limburg, province in northeast Belgium, where the cheese is made. The place name is from Germanic *lindo "lime tree" (see linden) + *burg "fortification."
Some frauds a few years ago started a Limburger cheese factory down in Keyport, New Jersey, but the imposition was soon exposed. A man could come within 300 yards of the spurious article without being knocked down, and as the smell never had any effect on the town clock the business was soon discontinued. [John E. Boyd, "The Berkeley Heroine and Others Stories"]
limbus (n.) Look up limbus at
Latin, literally "edge, border" (see limb (n.2)). Used in English in various senses; in Medieval Latin the name of the region on the border of Hell, and thus sometimes used in very correct English for limbo (n.1).
lime (n.1) Look up lime at
"chalky, sticky mineral used in making mortar," from Old English lim "sticky substance, birdlime;" also "mortar, cement, gluten," from Proto-Germanic *leimaz (source also of Old Saxon, Old Norse, Danish lim, Dutch lijm, German Leim "birdlime"), from PIE root *(s)lei- "slime, slimy, sticky" (source also of Latin limus "slime, mud, mire," linere "to smear;" see slime (n.)).

Bird-lime is prepared from the bark of the holly, it was spread on twigs and used for catching small birds. The lime used in building, etc. is made by putting limestone or shells in a red heat, which burns off the carbonic acid and leaves a brittle white solid which dissolves easily in water. Hence lime-kiln (late 13c.), lime-burner (early 14c.). As a verb, c. 1200, from the noun.
lime (n.3) Look up lime at
"linden tree," 1620s, earlier line (c. 1500), from Middle English lynde (early 14c.), from Old English lind "lime tree" (see linden). Klein suggests the change of -n- to -m- began in compounds whose second element began in a labial (such as line-bark, line-bast). An ornamental European tree, it is unrelated to the tree that produces the citrus fruit.
lime (n.2) Look up lime at
greenish-yellow citrus fruit, 1630s, probably via Spanish lima, from Arabic limah "citrus fruit," from Persian limun "lemon" (see lemon (n.1)). Lime-green as a color is from 1890.
lime-juicer (n.) Look up lime-juicer at
"British sailor; English person," 1857; see limey. In reference to lime-juice "the juice of the lime" (1704), which was popular 19c. as an antiscorbutic and stocked on vessels bound on long voyages. Lime-water (1670s) was the usual word for "solution of lime (n.1) in water."
limeade (n.) Look up limeade at
1868, from lime (n.2) with ending as in lemonade. Earlier was lime punch (1774).
limelight (n.) Look up limelight at
1826, popular name for Drummond light or calcium light, a brilliant light created by the incandescence of lime (n.1); adopted for lighthouses and later for the Victorian stage, where it illuminated the principal actors, hence the figurative use of the phrase in the limelight "on stage, at the center of attention" (1877).
limerick (n.) Look up limerick at
type of nonsense verse of five lines, 1896, perhaps from the county and city of Limerick in Ireland, but if so the connection is obscure. Often (after OED's Murray) attributed to a party game in which each guest in turn made up a nonsense verse and all sang a refrain with the line "Will you come up to Limerick?" but he reported this in 1898 and earlier evidence is wanting. Or perhaps from Learic, from Edward Lear (1812-1888) English humorist who popularized the form. Earliest examples are in French, which further complicates the quest for the origin. OED's first record of the word is in a letter of Aubrey Beardsley.
The limerick may be the only traditional form in English not borrowed from the poetry of another language. ... John Ciardi suggests that the Irish Brigade, which served in France for most of the eighteenth century, might have taken the form to France or developed an English version of a French form. ... The contemporary limerick usually depends on a pun or some other turn of wit. It is also likely to be somewhat suggestive or downright dirty. [Miller Williams, "Patterns of Poetry," Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1986]
The place name is literally "bare ground," from Irish Liumneach, from lom "bare, thin." It was famous for hooks.
limestone (n.) Look up limestone at
late 14c., from lime (n.1) + stone (n.). So called because it yields lime when burnt. Another name for it, mostly in American English, is limerock.
limey (n.) Look up limey at
1888, Australian, New Zealand, and South African slang for "English immigrant," short for lime-juicer (1857), a nickname given in derisive reference to the British Navy's policy (begun 1795) of issuing lime (n.2) juice on ships to prevent scurvy among sailors. U.S. use is attested from 1918, originally "British sailor, British warship;" extended to "any Englishman" by 1924.
Midway Signs Limey Prof to Dope Yank Talk ["Chicago Tribune" headline, Oct. 18, 1924, in reference to the hiring of William A. Craigie by University of Chicago to begin editing what would become the "Dictionary of American English"]
liminal (adj.) Look up liminal at
"of or pertaining to a threshold," 1870, from Latin limen "threshold, cross-piece, sill" (see limit (n.)) + -al (1). Related: Liminality.
limit (n.) Look up limit at
c. 1400, "boundary, frontier," from Old French limite "a boundary," from Latin limitem (nominative limes) "a boundary, limit, border, embankment between fields," perhaps related to limen "threshold." Originally of territory; general sense from early 15c. Colloquial sense of "the very extreme, the greatest degree imaginable" is from 1904.
limit (v.) Look up limit at
late 14c., "set limits to, restrict within limits" (also "prescribe, fix, assign"), from Old French limiter "mark (a boundary), restrict; specify" (14c.), from Latin limitare "to bound, limit, fix," from limes "boundary, limit" (see limit (n.)). From early 15c. as "delimit, appoint or specify a limit." Related: limited; limiting; limitable.
limitary (adj.) Look up limitary at
1610s, from Latin limitaris, from limes (genitive limitis) "boundary, limit" (see limit (n.)). Other adjectives in English included limital (1877), limitaneous (1721), limitative (1520s). Related: Limitarian.
limitation (n.) Look up limitation at
late 14c., from Old French limitacion "restriction, legal limitation," and directly from Latin limitationem (nominative limitatio), noun of action from past participle stem of limitare "to bound, limit, fix," from limes "boundary, limit" (see limit (n.)). Phrase statute of limitations is attested by 1768; it fixes and limits the period within which an action must be brought.
limited (adj.) Look up limited at
"circumscribed within definite limits," c. 1600, past participle adjective from limit (v.). The word was used earlier in a now-obsolete sense "appointed, fixed" (1550s). Limited edition is from 1869; limited monarchy from 1640s; limited war is from 1947. As a noun in railroading, 1878, short for limited express train (1875). In British company names, Limited (abbrev. Ltd.), 1855, is short for limited liability company, one in which the liability of partners is limited, usually to the amount of their capital investment.
limitless (adj.) Look up limitless at
1580s, from limit (n.) + -less. Related: Limitlessly; limitlessness.
limn (v.) Look up limn at
early 15c., "to illuminate" (manuscripts), altered from Middle English luminen, "to illuminate manuscripts" (late 14c.), from Old French luminer "light up, illuminate," from Latin luminare "illuminate, burnish," from lumen (genitive luminis) "radiant energy, light," related to lucere "to shine," from PIE *leuk-smen-, suffixed form of root *leuk- "light, brightness" (see light (n.)). Figurative sense of "portray, depict" first recorded 1590s. Related: Limned; limner.
limno- Look up limno- at
word-forming element used scientifically, "of or pertaining to lakes and fresh water," from Greek limne "pool of standing water, tidal pool, marsh, lake," a word of uncertain origin; the most likely guess is that it is related to Latin limus "mud," from PIE root *(s)lei- "slime" (see slime (n.)), via the notion of "moistness, standing water" [Beekes].
limnology (n.) Look up limnology at
study of lakes and fresh water, 1892; see limno- + -logy. The science founded and the name probably coined by Swiss geologist François-Alphonse Forel (1841-1912). Related: Limnological; limnologist.
limo (n.) Look up limo at
abbreviation of limousine, by 1959, American English.
Limoges (n.) Look up Limoges at
painted porcelain or enamel from Limoges in France, 1838; for place name see Limousine.
limousine (n.) Look up limousine at
"enclosed automobile with open driver's seat," 1902, from French limousine, from Limousin, region in central France (see Limousine). The automobile meaning is from a perceived similarity of the car's profile to a type of hood worn by the inhabitants of that province. Since 1930s, it has been synonymous in American English with "luxury car." The word was applied from 1959 to vehicles that take people to and from large airports. Limousine liberal first attested 1969 (in reference to New York City Mayor John Lindsay).
Limousine Look up Limousine at
region in central France, originally an adjective referring to its chief city, Limoges, from Latin Lemovices, name of a people who lived near there, who were perhaps so called in reference to their elm spears or bows. The Latin adjective form of the name, Lemovicinus, is the source of French Limousin.
limp (v.) Look up limp at
"move with a halting or jerky step," 1560s, of unknown origin, not found in Old or Middle English; perhaps related to Middle English lympen "to fall short" (c. 1400), which probably is from Old English lemphealt "halting, lame, limping," the first element of which is itself obscure.

OED notes that German lampen "to hang limp" (Middle High German limphin) "has been compared." Perhaps it is from a PIE root meaning "slack, loose, to hang down" (source also of Sanskrit lambate "hangs down," Middle High German lampen "to hang down"). Related: Limped; limping. Limpen in Middle English was a different verb, "to happen, befall, fall to the lot of," from Old English limpan, which might ultimately be from the same root.
limp (adj.) Look up limp at
"flaccid, drooping, lacking stiffness or firmness," 1706, of obscure origin, apparently from the first element in Old English lemphealt (see limp (v.)). Related: Limply; limpness. A limp wrist as indicative of male effeminate homosexuality is from 1960.
limp (n.) Look up limp at
1818, from limp (v.).
limpet (n.) Look up limpet at
type of marine gastropod mollusk, early 14c., earlier lempet (early 14c.), alteration of Old English lempedu, which apparently originally meant "a lamprey" (both cling by sucking), from Medieval Latin lampreda "lamprey; limpet," from Late Latin lampetra "lamprey" (see lamprey). Limpin was a 16c. variant that survived in dialects.
limpid (adj.) Look up limpid at
c. 1600, from Middle French limpide (15c.) and directly from Latin limpidus "clear, transparent" (source also of Spanish límpido, Italian limpido), related to limpor "a clear liquid," limpa "water goddess, water," which is perhaps cognate with lympha "clear liquid" (see lymph). Related: Limpidly.
limpidity (n.) Look up limpidity at
1650s, from French limpidité or directly from Late Latin limpiditatem (nominative limpiditas) "clarity, clearness," from Latin limpidus "clear, transparent" (see limpid). Bailey's dictionary (1727) has limpitude.
limpsy (adj.) Look up limpsy at
also limsy, 1825, a colloquial New England form of limp (adj.). Compare drowsy, flimsy, tricksy, tipsy.
limulus (n.) Look up limulus at
horseshoe crab, king crab, representative genus of the biological family Limulidae, 1837, Modern Latin, from Latin limulus "somewhat askance," diminutive of limus "askance."
limy (adj.) Look up limy at
1550s, "resembling or coated with lime," from lime (n.1) + -y (2). Of soil, etc., "containing lime," 1670s. Related: Liminess.
linage (n.) Look up linage at
1883, "position in a line," from line (n.) + -age. From 1884 as a rough measure of printed material from the number of lines of text. Also "a payment or charge per line of print" (1888).
linament (n.) Look up linament at
"lint rolled and used for dressing wounds," 1620s, from Latin linamentum "linen stuff," from linum (see linen).
linch (n.) Look up linch at
Old English lynis "linchpin," now obsolete; see linchpin.
linchpin (n.) Look up linchpin at
also linch-pin, "peg that holds a wheel on an axle" (now mainly figurative), late 14c., a corruption of linspin, literally "axle-pin," from pin (n.) + from Middle English lins "axle," from Proto-Germanic *luniso (source also of Old Saxon lunisa, Middle Dutch lunse, Dutch luns, German Lünse), a word of uncertain origin.
Lincoln Look up Lincoln at
county town of Lincolnshire, Old English Lindcylene, from Latin Lindum Colonia from a Latinized form of British *lindo "pool, lake" (corresponding to Welsh llyn). Originally a station for retired IX Legion veterans. Lincoln green as a type of dyed cloth fabric made there is from c. 1500.

In reference to U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), Lincolnesque is from 1894 (earliest reference is to the beard); Lincolniana is from 1862.
lind (n.) Look up lind at
"the linden tree," Old English lind; see linden.