Omphaloskepsis

Omphaloskepsis /ˈɒmfələʊˈskɛpsɪs/ is an interesting word I came across today that refers to the practice of contemplating one’s navel as an aid to meditation. It comes from the Ancient Greek ὀμϕαλός (omphalos – navel) and σκέψις (skepsis -inquiry).

Apparently omphaloskepsis is used in yoga and sometimes in the Eastern Orthodox Church and it helps in the contemplation of the basic principles of the cosmos and of human nature, and naval is consider by some to be a ‘powerful chakra’.

Omphaloskepsis is also another word for contemplating one’s navel or navel-gazing, i.e. being self-absorbed.

The French equivalent of omphaloskepsis is nombrilisme, from nombril (navel) plus -isme (-ism), and the Welsh equivalent is bogailsyllu, from bogail (navel) and syllu (to gaze, look). A French idiom the revolves around the navel is penser qu’on est le nombril du monde (‘to think that one is the navel of the world’) or to think the world revolves around you. Are there similar phrases in other languages?

On another topic, have you ever heard or used the phrase “who’s she, the cat’s mother?”.

It is, or was, used to point out that referring to a woman in the third person in her presence is/was considered rude by some. It apparently was first noted in the OED in the late 19th century.

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This entry was posted in English, Greek, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases.

6 Responses to Omphaloskepsis

  1. Andrew says:

    Fascinating and amusing, going to tweet this. Thanks, Simon, though I think this may indicate that you have far too much free time on your hands, haha.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  2. Rauli says:

    In Finnish:
    tuijottaa omaan napaansa (to stare at one’s own navel)
    luulla olevansa maailman napa (to thinks one is the navel of the world)

    In Finnish the word napa (navel) means, besides the belly button, a (geographical and magnetic north/south) pole, and a pivot (of an axle).

    Kind of related to the topic is the Finnish word for January, tammikuu, which combines the words “tammi” and “kuu” (moon). The word tammi means the oak tree, but it has in some dialects had the meaning ‘heartwood’, ‘navel’, ‘pivot’. January is the turning point of the year.

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    On another topic, have you ever heard or used the phrase “who’s she, the cat’s mother?”.

    It is, or was, used to point out that referring to a woman in the third person in her presence is/was considered rude by some. It apparently was first noted in the OED in the late 19th century.

    Yes, I heard it often as a child, in a slightly different form: “who’s she, the cat’s cousin?”.

  4. Chris Waugh says:

    I’ve heard it said of people a bit up themselves that they “think they’re the cat’s pyjamas” – equivalent?

  5. Ben says:

    When I was growing up in North Yorkshire in the 1980s, my mother and her parents would often point out that it was rude to refer to a woman with any of the third person pronouns in her presence and I regularly heard, “who’s she, the cat’s mother”. To this day I try to avoid doing it.

  6. Ása says:

    In Icelandic, there is the word “naflaskoðun” which literally translate to “navel observation”. It means a very thorough self-analysis. I’m sure it shares the same root.