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[lim] /lɪm/
verb (used with object)
to represent in drawing or painting.
to portray in words; describe.
Obsolete. to illuminate (manuscripts).
Origin of limn
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English lymne, variant of Middle English luminen to illuminate (manuscripts), aphetic variant of enlumine < Middle French enluminer < Latin inlūmināre to embellish, literally, light up; see illuminate
Related forms
outlimn, verb (used with object)
unlimned, adjective
Can be confused
limb, limn. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for limning
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Then there is the express statement of Nicholas Hilliard, who declares himself as the pupil of Holbein in the art of limning.

  • For his face, late blue with rage, was now black with a limning of the sewer liquid.

    The Free Lances Mayne Reid
  • But the canvas of my imagination, when it came to limning the Man About Town, was blank.

    The Four Million

    O. Henry
  • Hilarius crimsoned, he was weary of limning ever with blue and gold, he faltered.

  • Florio explains miniatura as "a limning (see p. 63), a painting with vermilion."

  • Nevertheless, slight though it is, the limning all through has touches of the most comic suggestiveness.

  • He hath a rare gift of limning; but in our likeness, which he hath painted for deare Erasmus, I think he has made us very ugly.

  • We are told by Gilpin that Charles "had singular skill in limning, and was a good judge of pictures."

    English Painters Harry John Wilmot-Buxton
British Dictionary definitions for limning


verb (transitive)
to represent in drawing or painting
(archaic) to describe in words
an obsolete word for illuminate
Derived Forms
limner (ˈlɪmnə) noun
Word Origin
C15: from Old French enluminer to illumine (a manuscript) from Latin inlūmināre to brighten, from lūmen light
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for limning



early 15c., "to illuminate" (manuscripts), altered from Middle English luminen, "to illuminate manuscripts" (late 14c.), from Old French luminer "light up, illuminate," from Latin luminare "illuminate, burnish," from lumen (genitive luminis) "radiant energy, light," related to lucere "to shine" (see light (n.)). Sense of "portray, depict" first recorded 1590s. Related: Limned.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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