In Limine Sapientiae

The University of York Coat of Arms

Most likely, the title of this post means nothing to you. For me, it was signpost in a series of cute irresistible signposts that suggested I go to the University of York in the fall to get my masters in Linguistics.

Limen is a Latin word that means doorway or threshold. I remember my 7th grade literature volume had a section called “Crossing the Threshold.” All of the stories within had to do with growing up, crossing from the world of children to that of adults. I thought it was a strange metaphore [ibid] but for as long as humans have constructed shelters, there have been entrances, spaces that distinguish the interior from the exterior. The word limit is related to limen, in that it shows the borders of a situation. The threshold is an important structural feature, as well as being a useful metaphor. Several modern English words have ‘limen’ in them, but look more similar to the possessive case of the word, ‘liminis.’

Preliminary decision-making happens before you reach the threshold of a crisis, and the ‘sub’ in subliminal means under, so subliminal messages sneak under the threshold of your mind, and enter your subconscience undetected. Eliminate is a shortening of ‘ex-liminate,’ to toss out from the doorway, to rid from the premises.

Liminal itself is a word, a great word for me. A liminal being is a hybrid creature which lives on the threshold of two worlds, a foot on either side. Ghosts and zombies are between living and dead, while werewolves, minotaurs and centaurs mix the worlds of humans with animals.

This is a liminal swimming pool.

Back to the University of York. Once accepted to multiple universities, I compared clubs, gyms, professors, school colors, and anything else I could think of to help me make the right choice. When I looked into the coats of arms, many schools had long windbag sorts of quotes. York has “In Limine Sapientiae,” which means “On the Threshold of Knowledge.” The knowledge is inside, but you have to walk in the door to gain access to it. Gorgeous. Coats of arms don’t often endear me to a school, but this one really did. I’ve loved liminal words for several years, and finding this extra treat was another ribbon of serendipity telling me to go to the University York. I may not share this with my future peers, not everyone’s heart is warmed by the appearance of certain words like mine is. The University’s satirical newspaper, The Lemon Press, uses ‘On the Cusp of Coherence’ as its motto, a send-up to the phrase that brought me a little closer to my future alma mater.

July 20, 2011

in best post ever,career,Etymology,history of language,insignificant linguistics mystery,latin,University of York,Words & Origins

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

F. Contesi August 9, 2012 at 2:39 PM

Is your interpretation of In limine sapientiae (in “The knowledge is inside, but you have to walk in the door to gain access to it.”) your own? Or is attested in other sources? (Nice post, by the way. You deservedly are the 4th Google result for the Latin phrase. IN THE WORLD!)


Tank Hughes August 9, 2012 at 6:29 PM

My interpretation is mine. I don’t know if the motto is from a longer phrase, or what the university specifically intends it to mean. To me it feels like “here: you have access to the knowledge, now it’s your job to do the work to get it.” Cite me! I’d love to see (Hughes 2011) in your dissertation 🙂


F. Contesi August 10, 2012 at 4:07 PM

Not really dissertation material, is it? By the way, the natural interpretation for me would be more within this context: At the University of York you are always at the boundary of knowledge. Something more awkward (yet humbler) but resembling: We’re at the forefront of research.


Tim May 23, 2014 at 6:44 PM

If you’re interested in the coat of arms, it has some interesting components. On the shield is three books, which I think represent the three areas of learning at the university: arts, sciences and social sciences. The white rose is the symbol of the House of York. The Mural Crown represents the history of York as a major fortification dating back to Roman times. The crossed keys are the symbol of St Peter, the gatekeeper of heaven and the saint to which York Mister is dedicated.


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