Threshold and Lintel

The threshold of a door could not scrape an elephant's back.

I just read a newspaper article about the memorial service held for Ellen the elephant. Ellen died on July 5, 2011. She had been at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas since 1954 and is being mourned in a big way.

This post is not about Ellen, but a word that appears in the story about Ellen.

A caption under a photo of Ellen walking towards the entrance to her pen reads:

“A youthful Ellen approaches the too-low threshold of her pen in an undated photo.”

The story explains why the photo has been included:

“For most of her life, the threshold in and out of her quarters was so short she scraped her back…”

The literal meaning of threshold is

The piece of timber or stone which lies below the bottom of a door, and has to be crossed in entering a house…

The word threshold has many figurative meanings, including “entrance” or “doorway,” but, in the context of this story about Ellen, the writer is using the word in a literal sense to indicate the part of the entrance that was “too low” or “so short.”

The part of the pen entrance that scraped the elephant’s back before the zoo built her better quarters was not the threshold, but the lintel.

lintel: a horizontal piece of timber, stone, etc. placed over a door, window, or other opening

The part of the door opening that runs vertically from the lintel to the threshold is called the jamb.

Photos of Ellen

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5 Responses

  1. Oh, gentle teacher. You do good in the world, Maeve. Isn’t it wonderful you have willing, humble readers.

  2. The article about Ellen the Elephant in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that prompted this post about lintel and threshold was written by Bobby Ampezzan. Once he got over the embarrassment that anyone feels at having an error pointed out, he wrote this gracious email, which I am posting here with his permission:

    —-This is one of the best responses to a story I’ve ever gotten! Oh, sure, I was furious at first that my error would be the subject of a blog post, but then I read it and loved it. Yes, lintel. The minute you pointed this out, I thought, “Yes, I DID mean lintel.” It’s just not a word you commonly hear, but of course it’s correct.

    Thank you for taking the time to send me this e-mail and draw my eyes to your post. I don’t like being wrong, but I REALLY don’t like going uncorrected. For the rest of my life now I’ve got a good story for how I learned to use “lintel” when I mean “top of a doorway.”

    Bobby Ampezzan
    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

  3. I hadn’t been aware of any confusion between these two terms. But, thanks to your article, I see there is a need to untangle them. I hope no young bridegroom has tried to carry his bride across the lintel.

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