Posted by Shae on September 03, 2002
I say 'again' because I searched the archives and see the word has been discussed already. One definition says it's a 'sill' beneath the door, but doesn't explain the purpose of the sill. My understanding is that typical medieval house floors, at ground level, consisted of bare earth that was covered with straw, reeds, rushes, or whatever. The most readily available material was 'threshings,' the straw left after grain was threshed. So, the threshold was the sill under the door that contained the thresh within the domicile.
Positioned there, it was/is liminal - the transition between safety (home and hearth) and the uncertainty of 'out there!' So, 'crossing the threshold' was stepping from security to uncertainty, from one state to another.
Anyway, that's what I've been telling visitors to the museum when they ask about the 15/16th century earthenware watering cans. They were used for watering the floor, to dampen the thresh so it wouldn't blow around the place and get in the beer, and stuff. I hope nobody can prove me wrong!!