or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Centre of Attention

No, this is not me. Alas.

Over on my other blog I've just written about a scent called Nombril Immense. A nombril is a navel, otherwise known in English as the belly button, and would it surprise you to know that "nombril" exists in English? We do have a way of multiplying words: even when we already have a perfectly good one, we want more more more.

We don't actually use it to refer to the belly button, though. "Nombril" is used in heraldry, a topic which is so deeply uninteresting to me that I can't even be bothered to tell you what it means (it has something to do with the fesse on a shield, which is perverse, because "fesses" are haunches), but you can, of course, look it up for yourself. A great many heraldry terms are French, as far as I can see, so it doesn't surprise me that "nombril" would appear there as well.

The word itself is related to Latin "umbilicus": it was the similar "ombril" at one time, but, says The Online Etymology Dictionary it changed from "l'ombril" to "nombril" through the process of dissimilation, in which one instance of a repeated sound in a word changes or vanishes (the first "-r-" in "February" disappearing in spoken English to become "Feb-you-ary"), although I do wonder if in a variant of junctural metanalysis "un ombril" simply got blurred into "un nombril" over time, since the two are indistinguishable in speech.

"Navel" comes to us almost directly from Indo-European "nobh-" via Germanic "nabalan". (It showed up in Old English as "nafela", which once again shows the intimate relationship between the "f" and "v" sounds: they have identical mouth positions, and so have on occasional come to replace one another, as in "fox" and "vixen", or "vat" and archaic "fat", as in "wine-fat".)


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