What is the origin of omphaloskepsis?
It is not surprising that omphaloskepsis, a noun meaning “contemplating one’s navel” and implying contempt, first occurs in Aldous Huxley’s satirical novel Those Barren Leaves (1925). (The equally dismissive adjective omphaloskeptical is first recorded in 1978). It is easy to deconstruct omphaloskepsis: omphalós in Greek means “navel, bellybutton, a boss on a shield,” which comes from the very common Proto-Indo-European root enebh– with variants embh-, ombh-, nobh-, nōbh-, nebh– “bellybutton, boss of a shield, hub of a wheel.” Enebh– is the source of Latin umbilīcus “bellybutton” (from ombh-) and umbō “the boss of a shield” (also from ombh-); Sanskrit nābhīlam “bellybutton” (from nōbh-); Old Irish imblin, imbliu “bellybutton” (from embh-); Old High German naba and Old English nafu, both meaning “hub” (from nobh-); Old High German nabalo and Old English nafela, both meaning “bellybutton” (English navel).
The Greek noun and combining form sképsis, –skepsis “viewing, perception, examination, speculation” is a derivative of the verb sképtesthai “to look around, look back, consider, survey, spy on.” Sképtesthai comes from much earlier Greek skepjesthai, from the Greek root skep– and the present tense suffix –j– (representing the same sound as in yet). Latin has the verb specere “to look at, see, observe,” whose present tense form speciō shows the same suffix –j-. The Latin root is spec– (i.e., spek-) and the Greek is skep-: which one is “correct”? The answer comes from other languages: Germanic has spehōn “to watch, spy on” (from Proto-Indo-European spek-), Sanskrit has spáśati “he sees” (from the Sanskrit root spaś-, from earlier speś-, from an even earlier spek-). Greek “loses.”