1

I will use a smile as an example (though the word should work in general for something which is "at the edge").

So what I want is an adjective for a half-smile which would fit in, say, the following sentence

... a smile; subtle and ______ .

Here are some possibilities which I already looked at but fail to satisfy my description:

  1. extreme: Literally means something at the extremity or end, but it is not usually used in the physical sense so it would convey a different meaning.
  2. subtle: Doesn't contain the meaning I want which is physically at the edge or corner.
  3. quasi: Again doesn't describe the location of the smile, also cannot stand alone as an adjective.
  4. crooked: Fits the sentence I provided but doesn't mean "at the edge".
  5. lopsided: Like crooked.
  6. uneven: Same problem.

I already checked out this question A word that refers to a "half-smile"? but the answers either provide a noun or an adjective which doesn't have the meaning of "at the edge".

  • You want liminal: 1. of or at the limen, or threshold 2. at a boundary or transitional point between two conditions, stages in a process, ways of life, etc.. In psychology, a sensation which is just barely perceptible is liminal. In modern literature, airports, train stations, long car rides, all the dull a dreary places one spends time between A and B, only functioning to get you from A to B, with no other meaning in life, are liminal spaces. – Dan Bron May 21 '17 at 10:01
  • @DanBron Nope, liminal is not what I'm looking for since it refers to a process. I need something on the line of 'lateral' but meaning "at the edge" – hb20007 May 21 '17 at 10:09
  • It is not only for a process, as I describe in more derail in the above comment. It is any threshold. The doorjamb between you home and the outside is liminal, for example (that's the ultimate origin of the word, limen), as is the seashore or coast (though that has a more specialized term, littoral). I understand what you need, so far liminal is my best recommendation. – Dan Bron May 21 '17 at 10:17
  • 1
    Your first two sentences are correct. Your last sentence is not correct. A liminal smile can happen at any time at all, for any reason. It's just perceptible. Either visually, to the person seeing it, because it's subtle, not full-blown, just at the edge of the mouth; it has started there, as all smiles do, but progressed no further, just as you describe in your sentence. Or mentally, to the one doing the smiling, who feels the first feather of joy, or humor, or snarky condescension, in their hearts. It's a subtle signal betraying a subtle emotion. Think Mona Lisa. – Dan Bron May 21 '17 at 10:37
  • 1
    If you like. I rarely post answers any longer. But I've already written most of it in the comments by this point. I'll do it later today. And I'll leave you with this quote from a story in the anthology The Oxford Book of American Short Stories: Susan Certain ... is giving him a look he's never seen before. The liminal smile, the coy arch of the eyebrows ... "How may I persuade you?". – Dan Bron May 21 '17 at 11:04
1

liminal: 1. of or at the limen, or threshold 2. at a boundary or transitional point between two conditions.

The word liminal can refer to any threshold, including a physical one. The doorjamb between your home and the outside is liminal, for example (that's the ultimate origin of the word, limen), as is the seashore or coast (though that has a more specialized term, littoral).

A liminal smile can happen at any time at all, for any reason. It's just perceptible. Either visually, to the person seeing it, because it's subtle, not full-blown, just at the edge of the mouth; it has started there, as all smiles do, but progressed no further, just as you describe in your sentence. Or mentally, to the one doing the smiling, who feels the first feather of joy, or humor, or snarky condescension, in their hearts. It's a subtle signal betraying a subtle emotion.

An example can be found in a story in the anthology The Oxford Book of American Short Stories: "Susan Certaine ... is giving him a look he hasn't seen before. The liminal smile, the coy arch of the eyebrows ..."

Full credit goes to Dan Bron for providing the answer in the form of comments.

Answer derived from his comments based on SE policy here.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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