English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I was going to use purgatory to describe the state between childhood and adulthood. However, I looked online and could only find two definitions for the word, one being religious and the other a state of temporary punishment.

I've come to know the word as also meaning a perpetual, undefined state where things are between two defined states. Is there an actual definition of the word meaning this, or am I mistaken?

share|improve this question
The Purgatory is not perpetual. It can be very long, yes, but not perpetual. It's meant to be a place/state where you purge yourself from your sins in order to be able to access the Heaven. Basically, you're not bad enough to be in Hell and not good enough to be in Heaven, but you can "recover" so you go to Purgatory. "Purgare" in Latin meant "to purify", and that verb still exists in Italian. The etymology is longer, though. – Alenanno Feb 11 '12 at 0:05
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Perhaps you are thinking of a closely-related word, limbo, which has a sense "Any in-between place, state or condition of neglect or oblivion which results in an unresolved status, delay or deadlock."

Regarding "the state between childhood and adulthood", in which state most teenagers are found, the sense of purgatory that applies is "any situation causing suffering".

share|improve this answer
I think I probably meant limbo. I'm writing a book report on The Catcher in the Rye (sue me now, I'm killing it), and was referring to the "fall" that Mr. Antolini talks to Holden about. I could see the state between adolescence and adulthood described as purgatory, but the state of Holden's fall, would that be limbo, or purgatory? – mowwwalker Feb 11 '12 at 0:05
@Walkerneo At least now that the etymology and semantics of the word have been clarified, I suppose more can be discussed on writersSE or literatureSE. – Kris Feb 12 '12 at 14:47

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.