om·​pha·​los ˈäm(p)-fə-ˌläs How to pronounce omphalos (audio)
: a central point : hub, focal point

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Omphalos originated as an ancient Greek word meaning "navel" and is distantly related to two other words of the same meaning, Latin umbilicus and Old English "nafela." (The latter of these is the source of our word navel.) The ancient Greeks also used "omphalos" to refer to a sacred, rounded stone in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi that was supposed to mark the center of the earth. In the 19th century, English speakers borrowed "omphalos" for this sense and its more general "center of activity" sense, as well as to refer to raised ornamentation on a shield or in the base of a cup or dish. In the 1920s, "omphalos" made another contribution to English via the word omphaloskepsis, which means "contemplation of one's navel."

Examples of omphalos in a Sentence

during the Vietnam War the university's campus effectively became the area's omphalos for antiwar activity
Recent Examples on the Web In front of me was a black ovoid stone, known as the omphalos, set on the spot in Greek mythology where two eagles loosed by Zeus crossed paths at the earth’s nexus. Liz Alderman, New York Times, 9 July 2019 While the temples have crumbled, seeing the omphalos gave me goose bumps, and left me awe-struck over Delphi’s sublime place in history. Liz Alderman, New York Times, 9 July 2019 Zeus marked the spot with a stone called the omphalos (navel), to signify the location’s centrality. National Geographic, 12 Mar. 2019

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'omphalos.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Greek omphalós "navel, umbilical cord, central point, boss, knob," going back to Indo-European h3n̥bh-l̥-o-, derivative with an -l- formative and zero-grade ablaut from the base *h3nobh- "hub of a wheel, nave entry 1" — more at navel

First Known Use

1845, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of omphalos was in 1845


Dictionary Entries Near omphalos

Cite this Entry

“Omphalos.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

Medical Definition


om·​pha·​los ˈäm(p)-fə-ˌläs, -ləs How to pronounce omphalos (audio)
plural omphali -ˌlī How to pronounce omphalos (audio) -ˌlē How to pronounce omphalos (audio)
: navel

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