The Magical Outie of the Earth

Drawings of male and female body

Source of inspiration

The ancient Greeks had a story that the big daddy god Zeus once sent two eagles flying across the earth, apparently in straight lines that would intersect. The spot where their paths crossed was the center of the world. In Greek, the word for that spot is omphalos, which means “navel”, or “belly button” if you like that better. By good luck, the omphalos of the earth just happened to be at Delphi, at the spot where a huge temple was dedicated to the god Apollo.

Tweren’t so long ago I wrote a blog entry about the fact that metaphors show up in the language working from our basic perception of the world. The basic idea of a metaphor is to compare what is familiar with what is unfamiliar, and the Greek idea of the omphalos as a center reflects a very interesting source of metaphors. If we use what is familiar to compare things (and thus to create metaphors), what is more familiar to us than something that is with us always—our own body?

Stone omphalos at Delphi

Omphalos at Delphi

The condition of our body over time, and how we feel about that condition, gives rise to the metaphor I talked about before, “up is good, down is bad”. In a different way, the various parts of our body are also a source for a rich plethora of metaphors in describing the world around us. This is true not only for ancient cultures, like the belly button of the world, but for new things as we continue to create them, like the nose of a rocket.

Below I’m listing some examples of metaphors from different body parts. Mostly I’ve got nouns, but a few verbs as well. There are many, many more possibilities than what I’m using here. Some body parts I couldn’t quickly think of an example for, but I’m including them because maybe you will. (Since this blog might be read before the kids go to bed, I’ve left off some of the more interesting parts of the body. Feel free to write those words on the screen with a magic marker once the kids leave the room.)

Head and Neck

hair–angel hair pasta; head–head of the class; nose–nose of airplane; eye–eye of a needle, eye of a storm; ear–ear of corn; mouth–mouth of a bottle, mouth of a river; chin–??; neck–neck of land; face–face of a clock, (verb) face a problem; cheek–??; tongue–tongue of a shoe


chest–chest of drawers; back–back of a room; body–body of water, body of an essay; shoulder–shoulder of the road; stomach–(verb) stomach his presence


thigh–??; arm–arm of a chair; leg–leg of that same chair; elbow–elbow joint pipe; knee–??; hand–(verb) hand off a job; finger–(verb) finger a criminal; palm–??; foot–foot of the bed; toe–(verb) toe the line

Internal organs

heart–heart of a problem, heart of the country, heart of an issue; kidney–??; liver–lily-livered coward; lungs–??; guts–the guts to face a bully

Let’s see what we can do with some of these metaphors in a short creative piece:

The plane passed overhead, flashing in the sunlight that would soon be gone, as we could see heavy dark clouds rolling toward us from the west. The nose of the small plane dipped, then rose again as the pilot circled back around before landing on the body of the water. From where we stood on the deck, we had a good view of the landing, as our cabin was on a narrow neck of land where the mouth of the river emptied into the lake. Amy glanced at the face of the clock and said, “Six o’clock. That must be Roy.” She pushed against the arms of her chair and stood. “He’ll be up here soon. I’ll go put the pasta on, so it’ll be ready.” She was fixing angel hair with chicken and tomatoes, knowing Roy liked that, and since he brought the mail, we liked to keep him happy. I saw that the plane was approaching our dock. “He’s lucky he got down,” I said. “The eye of that storm will be passing over in a half hour.”

I used eight of the body metaphors there. I know it’s not great writing, but don’t get too critical. Don’t be an ass.


Filed under Language

2 responses to “The Magical Outie of the Earth

  1. Lori

    Ha! you’re the best. Come to our Tucson Festival of Books next March.


  2. David

    I only aim for second best (and even that’s a struggle). You’re the best. I hope you had a good festival this year.

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