cunctolimen

A cunctolimen is a kind of place that many of us hate to pass through, but nearly all of us do pass through several times a day. And some of us linger there. Which is why many of us hate to pass through it.

You know. You’re going through a door and someone ahead of you has stopped right there, checking out the surroundings or finishing texting on their phone. Or some people have chosen the spot right where the theatre lets into the lobby to have a conversation circle. Or you step into the subway train and the person in front of you stops right at the door rather than moving in to all that room in front of you, buddy. Or you’re at the top of some steps and someone is having their movie moment, pausing for the nonexistent camera as they survey what’s below. Or you’re getting off an escalator and the person ahead of you is not moving forward and hey! Scuse me! Sorry!

People naturally stop at transition points, visual edges, what are sometimes called limens, from Latin limen ‘threshold’. Unfortunately, those transition points are exactly where traffic flow is most constricted. People naturally pause, delay, tarry, hesitate at them. As it happens, the Latin root for pausing, delaying, tarrying, hesitating is cuncto–. (Actually there are several roots that mean similar things, but that’s the one we get in this word.) It’s not a root that shows up often in English for whatever reason, but one word that does use it is cunctation, ‘delaying, tarrying’. And another is cunctolimen. Which means a place at or by a threshold where people pause. Right in the damn way.

Cunctolimen is a word that makes you… pause for a moment, isn’t it? You’d think there might be a shorter word for it, but trust me, better cunctolimen than Zögernübergang. German may have a word for everything, but Latin at least looks like you could say it. Which you can, quite easily. It’s like “cunk toe lim en” (that’s /ˈkʌŋk to ˌlɪ mən/ for those who know IPA).

I’m glad this word exists, because cunctolimens are common features in daily life and an important problem in traffic flow. Bottlenecks are inevitable, but people stopping right at or next to them should be solvable. I suspect that in at least some of the cases, a floor pattern – tiles or carpet – that extended the visual edge well into the room could help; people might by reflex stop at the visual edge, the border between dark and light floor, rather than right in front of the freakin’ door.

I will admit, though, that this word exists precisely because I wanted it. Yes, though it’s made of old parts, it’s new. As of now. It’s a new old word. Now let’s get using it.

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