Word of the Day

Word of the day

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

omphaloskepsis

[ om-fuh-loh-skep-sis ]

noun

contemplation of one's navel as part of a mystical exercise; navel-gazing.

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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.”

how is omphaloskepsis used?

Finally the flesh dies and putrefies; and the spirit presumably putrefies too. And there’s an end of your omphaloskepsis, with all its by-products, God and justice and salvation and all the rest of them.

Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves, 1925

The court understands that many a writer is writing high-mindedly only for himself. Or herself. Fine! But such an exercise in omphaloskepsis will buy no brioches for breakfast.

James J. Kilpatrick, "You Should Write to Be Understood," The Free-Lance Star, January 14, 2006
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Word of the day

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

punditocracy

[ puhn-di-tok-ruh-see ]

noun

influential media pundits collectively.

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What is the origin of punditocracy?

Punditocracy, originally an American term, composed of pundit “learned person, authority, maven” and the thoroughly naturalized suffix –cracy “rule, government,” is a snarky noun used to refer to the elite members of the news media (also known as the commentariat—another snarky noun). Pundit comes from Sanskrit paṇḍita, an adjective and noun meaning “learned, learned man” (in Sanskrit language and literature, Hindu religion, philosophy, and law), also used as a title like Doctor. Punditocracy entered English in the mid-1980s.

how is punditocracy used?

Meanwhile, imagination is in short supply among the energy punditocracy.

Mark P. Mills, "Imagining How Technology Will Disrupt Future Energy Markets," Forbes, May 28, 2019

Max was the forehead of today’s mass punditocracy, presaging Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, and the rest of today’s flesh-and-blood bloviators.

Scott Brown, "Scott Brown on How Max Headroom Predicted the Demise of TV Journalism," Wired, July 28, 2010

Word of the day

Monday, August 19, 2019

xeric

[ zeer-ik ]

adjective

of, relating to, or adapted to a dry environment.

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What is the origin of xeric?

Xeric is an adjective used in ecology, botany, and biology in general to characterize a very dry environment or an organism that can grow in such an environment. Xeric comes from Greek xērós “dry, withered,” and it appears to be obviously related to the Greek noun xerón “dry land, mainland,” but the long ē and the short e are problematic. If xērós and xerón are related, they will come from the Proto-Indo-European root kser– (also ksēr-) “dry,” source of Latin serescere “to become dry,” serēnitās “dry, bright, clear weather or sky” (English serenity), and serēnus “clear, cloudless, fine” (English serene). Xeric entered English in the first half of the 20th century.

how is xeric used?

At the island’s opposite end is the Southeast Peninsula, a wilderness of salt ponds and xeric vegetation.

Kenneth Brower, "Legacy Isles of the Caribbean," Islands, March 2003

These increasingly xeric (hot and dry) conditions restricted the range of large game animals and this, coupled with human predation and environmental stress, drove many game species … to extinction.

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear, "Foreword," People of the Earth, 1992

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