Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a situation or state where you are not certain and you have to wait to find out what will happen next

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun limbo comes from a form of the Latin noun ‘limbus’ meaning edge. It was first used in English in the late 14th century with its original meaning of the place where certain souls resided after death.


In Catholic theology limbo is the region adjacent to Hell where the souls of those who died before Christ’s birth and of unbaptized infants reside. In his ‘Divine Comedy’ Dante uses the opportunity of the poet’s visit to the region to describe encounters with the great poets and heroes of classical antiquity. These days limbo is more usually used to refer to a situation of suspension and uncertainty where you have to wait to find out what happens next. To be in such a situation is to be in limbo. Limbo also has another unrelated meaning: it refers to a dance originating in the Caribbean in which dancers bend backwards and go under a stick that is moved lower as the dance continues. This is also referred to as limbo dancing and someone who does it is a limbo dancer. Limbo is also a not very frequent verb meaning to dance the limbo.


“Sometimes limbo is a tolerable place to be stuck.”
(William Boyd, Any Human Heart)

“Being on tour is like being in limbo. It’s like going from nowhere to nowhere.”
(Bob Dylan)

Related words

doubt, uncertainty, grey area

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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