jee-ah-fê-jee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: The eating of earth, especially clay, or other non-food substances.
Notes: Animals and humans sometimes eat the planet they live on, especially the clays on it. Geophagy may also be an inexpensive way to acquire additional minerals, as in the case of African and African-American women who sometimes eat white clay during pregnancy (click here for more). Soil is also sometimes eaten by animals and humans to alleviate digestive disorders. Someone who practices geophagy is a geophagist.
In Play: Geophagy sounds like a dirty word but it is the least expensive multivitamin known to man: "Geophagy as practiced in the southeastern US is considered to have originated in Africa." Sure, you can play with this word; watch your friends run for the dictionary: "Lenny comes home from football practice looking like he has been engaged in geophagy." (I guess, figuratively, he has been.)
Word History: Today's dirty little Good Word comes from Greek ge "earth" + phag-ein "to eat". We see ge in many words referring to the earth: geology, geography, and geometry. Even the name, George, comes from a Greek word meaning "farmer", someone who tills the earth. The verb phagein is related to a recent Good Word, baksheesh, which originally meant "a gift", suggesting the original meaning of the root must have been roughly "provide something desirable". (Today we thank John Hall for suggesting today's very down-to-earth Good Word.)
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