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. This word is more specific than pica.
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 gluttonous geophagy."
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 comes from PIE bhag- "to share" and is related to the Good Word, baksheesh which originally meant "a gift", something you share with friends and relatives. We see the Greek word in sarcophagus, borrowed from the Latin version of Greek sarcophagos "flesh-eating", because the Greeks made coffins out of limestone under the assumption that limestone consumed flesh. (Today we thank John Hall for suggesting today's very down-to-earth Good Word.)