A friend asked me today whether the words sublime and subliminal are etymologically connected. Well, that's a very interesting question with a fascination answer. First, sublime. Through Middle English sublimen and Old French sublimer, it traces to Latin sublimere, meaning "to raise high" (you sort of guess from there how both the meanings of "phase transition from solid to gas" and "exalted" can and did stem from this; the "lofty" definition has been around longer, though). The root here is limen, which meant threshhold, and the prefix is sub-, which in this case meant "up to". Subliminal also sprang directly from this exact combination, but how? Turns out that sub- can mean both "up to" and "below", although we know it more as being "below" in the English language. So something sublime is "up to" the threshold of what is good, while something subliminal sneaks in below the threshold of conscious thought. Sub-, through Proto-Italic, comes from PIE upo, "under", and limen is from Latin limus, which meant "oblique" and is of unknown origin
4/25/2020 08:47:48 pm
Thanks for the explanation, the question about the meaning of the prefix "sub-" in "sublime" has perplexed me for quite a while now. Is there any other word where it also means "up to" and not "under"?
6/12/2020 06:48:13 pm
it seems to me that there is no consensus with the prefix "sub". It is definitely a designative element of inferiority, substitution, and approximation. I believe that the word sublime is intimately connected with the act of looking up. The translation of "sub" to "up to" seems convenient and not precise.
10/23/2020 05:09:23 am
Substantial comes to mind...
9/3/2020 06:30:45 pm
Just to clarify, since I'm being a bit slow: by "up to", you mean "all the way up to", not "taking any value between zero and the maximum", as in "You can claim up to £500", meaning someone once claimed £500, but you'll probably get 4 pence. In "sublime", it's always the maximum. Yeah? I think.
i’m not an etymologist at any rate, but i believe the “basis” involved with subliminal, sublime & sublimate must be approached from simultaneous perception - the lower (self) mind’s analysis - plus the upper (empyrean) mind of “higher self”. We are all “god unto ourself” - but physical perception is always dualistic (“something must be either/or” to have definition in first place.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.