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omphaloskepsis

Printable Version
Pronunciation: om-fê-lê-skep-sis Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. The contemplation of the navel as part of meditation. 2. Self-absorption, egocentrism. 3. Inertia, lack of activity or motivation.

Notes: A person who contemplates his or her navel is an omphaloskeptic who behaves omphaloskeptically. There is hardly a funnier part of the body than the navel, which in Greek is omphalos, and it has played a large role in humorous word formation over the centuries. Omphalomancy [ahm-f-lah-mn-see] is the art of foretelling the future by reading the navel while an omphalopsychic is someone who induces a hypnotic state by gazing at the navel. Let's not even get into omphalic oranges.

In Play: Since few of us engage in omphaloskepsis in the literal sense of the word, let's focus on the two figurative senses, beginning with self-absorption: "General Payne lives in such a fog of omphaloskepsis he hardly knows anyone else exists." Navel contemplation also implies inactivity: "Saturdays are my days of complete omphaloskepsis; don't ask me to do anything."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from a Greek compound, omphalo(s) "navel" + skepsis "observation". The oldest form of a word for "navel" that we can reconstruct for Indo-European languages is nobh-. With the suffix -l it would become in English exactly what we find: navel. However, with metathesis, we would get ombh- ([n] automatically becomes [m] before [b]), which would turn correctly align the first three letters of Greek omphalos "navel". In Latin the root changed only slightly, coming up umbilicus "navel", a word English borrowed and modified slightly for its phrase, umbilical cord. PIE spek-/spok- "to watch" underwent an odd form of metathesis in Greek: the P and K reversed places over the E to give skep-sis. This didn't happen in Latin, where it turned up as specere "to watch", as in the Latinate borrowing spectator. (Today's Good Word resulted from a suggestion by GW editor Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira a long time ago in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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