Noun > Limbo

Noun – Limbo

This word comes from a Latin one meaning “edge” or “border.”

In theology, Limbo is believed to be a place just on the border of Hell, where people go after they die if they haven’t been specifically assigned to either Heaven or Hell.

So, in general, we use the word “limbo” to mean either “a state of being put away and forgotten,” or, more commonly, “an uncertain state or status, usually somewhere in between two well-defined states.”

The limbo we’re talking about throughout this issue appears to be unrelated to the limbo, the dance contest. If you now have the limbo song stuck in your head, I apologize.

LIM bo

Part of speech:
Noun, the uncountable kind: “they’re trapped in limbo,” “it remains in limbo.”

Other forms:
None are common. If you need an adjective, try “limbo-like.

How to use it:
This fun-to-say word does have a negative tone. No one appreciates being left in limbo.

But we can throw the word “limbo” around pretty loosely; it’s not weighed down by heavy theological undertones, despite its origins in theology. Maybe that’s because it makes people think of the limbo dance, and it’s hard to frown and think of mortality, judgment, and the afterlife while imagining people wearing pointy hats, gripping red solo cups as they shimmy under a pole.

Talk about people being in limbo, living in limbo, waiting in limbo, hanging in limbo, remaining in limbo, being thrown or tossed into limbo, being caught or trapped in limbo, being left in limbo, etc.

Although it’s usually people in limbo, it can also be plans, issues, questions, decisions, possibilities, potential improvements, and so on that are left to wait around in limbo.

You can also talk about ending a limbo, freeing people from limbo, etc.

Occasionally we tack on an adjective: legal limbo, bureaucratic limbo, constitutional limbo.

“But (Vicky Dobrin, a Seattle immigration attorney,) says there’s no application for these visa waivers, and even strong cases like Ahmed’s are disappeared into limbo — in his case for 2 1/2 years now, and counting.”
— Danny Westneat, Seattle Times, 14 June 2019

“As a girl, (Nicole) was raised by an enchanting gaggle of friendly woodland creatures in the foothills of the Pacific Northwest, where she frolicked in lush green meadows by day and nested in a cozy thicket by night. Nicole currently exists in post-grad limbo near Seattle, where she survives by scavenging for bits of bread overlooked by native waterfowl.”
— Nicole McKaig, probably, Points in Case, 2019