omphaloskepsis /ɒmfələʊ’skɛpsɪs/

Have you ever found yourself “contemplating your naval?” That’s when you focus inwardly on something to the exclusion of everything else – usually something trivial. If so, you’ve been indulging in omphaloskepsis.

It comes from two Greek words: ὸμφαλός – meaning a naval, boss, or hub; and σκέψις – meaning examination or doubt.

It is a relatively new word in that it doesn’t appear in the 1986 Oxford English Dictionary but does pop up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, where it is credited with first appearing in 1925.

A similar-meaning word is omphalopsychic; or omphalopsychite –  not someone who can communicate mentally with dead belly buttons but a member of an ancient group of 14th century Greek monks called the Hesychasts. They lived quietly on Mount Athos and would go into a trance whilst meditating on their navels.

The word omphalos was used by the Ancient Greeks to refer to a stone at the Temple of Delphi high up on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. For them, this was the Center of the World.

Temple of Delphi

Temple of Delphi

If you count the number of knots on a baby’s umbilical cord to predict how many siblings he or she will have in the future, you are practicing omphalomancy – the -mancy ending comes from the Greek μαντεία, meaning divination.

Try slipping this word into your next conversation and see how it goes.


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