the practice of eating earthy matter, especially clay or chalk, as in famine-stricken areas.

Also ge·o·pha·gia [jee-uh-fey-juh, -jee-uh] /ˌdʒi əˈfeɪ dʒə, -dʒi ə/, ge·oph·a·gism [jee-of-uh-jiz-uh m] /dʒiˈɒf əˌdʒɪz əm/.

Origin of geophagy

First recorded in 1840–50; geo- + -phagy
Related formsge·oph·a·gist, nounge·oph·a·gous [jee-of-uh-guh s] /dʒiˈɒf ə gəs/, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for geophagy

Historical Examples of geophagy

  • The Whites settled in South America are likewise addicted to geophagy.

    The Races of Man

    Joseph Deniker

British Dictionary definitions for geophagy


geophagia (ˌdʒɪəˈfeɪdʒə, -dʒɪə) or geophagism (dʒɪˈɒfədʒɪzəm)


the practice of eating earth, clay, chalk, etc, found in some primitive tribes
zoology the habit of some animals, esp earthworms, of eating soil
Derived Formsgeophagist, noungeophagous (dʒɪˈɒfəɡəs), adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for geophagy

"dirt-eating," 1850, from Greek *geophagia (according to OED the actual Greek is geotragia), from geo-, comb. form of ge "earth" (see Gaia) + phagein "to eat."

A diseased appetite ... prevails in several parts of Alabama, where they eat clay. I heard various speculations on the origin of this singular propensity, called 'geophagy' in some medical books. [Lyell, "Second Visit to U.S.," 1850]

Cf. also pica (n.2).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

geophagy in Medicine




The eating of earthy substances, such as clay or chalk, that is practiced as a custom or for dietary or subsistence reasons.dirt-eating
Related formsge•opha•gist n.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.