LIMBER, an homonymous word, having three meanings, (i) A two- wheeled carriage forming a detachable part of the equipment of all guns on travelling carriages and having on it a framework to contain ammunition boxes, and, in most cases, seats for two or three gunners. The French equivalent is avantIrain, the Ger. Protz (see ARTILLERY and ORDNANCE). (2) An adjective meaning pliant or flexible and so used with reference to a person's mental or bodily qualities, quick, nimble, adroit. (3) A nautical term for the holes cut in the flooring in a ship above the keelson, to allow water to drain to the pumps.
The etymology of these words is obscure. According to the New English Dictionary the origin of (i) is to be found in the Fr. limoniere, a derivative of limon, the shaft of a vehicle, a meaning which appears in English from the 15th century but is now obsolete, except apparently among the miners of the north of England. The earlier English forms of the word are lymor or limmer. Skeat suggests that (2) is connected with " limp," which he refers to a Teutonic base lap-, meaning to hang down. The New English Dictionary points out that while " limp " does not occur till the beginning of the 18th century, " limber " in this sense is found as early as the 16th. In Thomas Cooper's (1517 ?-1594) Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae (1565), it appears as the English equivalent of the Latin lentus. A possible derivation connects it with " limb."