This is the official word for ‘navel gazing’. The etymology is pretty straightforward. It’s a combo of two Greek words: ‘omphalós’ which means ‘navel’ and ‘sképsis’ for ‘viewing’ or ‘examining’. So far, so good. It’s when you get to what it means that it gets a bit more complicated.
These days ‘navel gazing’ is an idiom for contemplating life, the universe and everything at the exclusion of everyone else. So basically being self-centred. But it also has another, more literal, meaning. Omphaloskepsis actually a mediation or contemplation aid in Eastern mysticism. In yoga, the manipura chakra is in the navel. When this chakra is in balance you’ll be filled with feelings of wisdom, self-confidence and wellbeing. So omphaloskepsis is literally staring at your belly button while meditating, in the hope of entering a mystical trance. (I think – on the rare occasions I’ve tried meditation or yoga I’ve just got hysterically giggly, so this is all a bit of a mystery to me. If you’d like to read something much more sensible about omphaloskepsis, including a how-to guide, have a look at this.)
PS I was going to cover ‘heteromaton’ this week, which is the opposite of ‘automaton’. So that means it’s something that has to be moved by someone or something else. Like a puppet. But I couldn’t think of any jokes to make that weren’t horrendously un-PC/downright rude. So I’ll leave it here as a footnote.
Two for the price of one? I know, I spoil you.
PPS If this has given you an urge for more idioms (and who wouldn’t want more idioms?), watch this space – I’ll soon be publishing a blog on weird English idioms and where they came from. Try to contain your excitement…