For those of you who are not word geeks, the Oxford English Dictionary (fondly–yes, fondly–known as the OED) is the ‘dictionary of record’ for the English language. It is both a looking-up-what-a-word-means sort of dictionary and a historical dictionary, meaning that it tells us how words’ meanings have developed and changed over the centuries. It is such fun. The history of the dictionary is itself delicious; a short version is online here.
From time to time, I’m going to share the interesting bits from some of the entries related to pregnancy, birth, and parenting. Today’s word: umbilical.
1. Anat. a. Of or pertaining to the umbilicus or navel. [...] b. In umbilical artery, vein, vessel.
1615 CROOKE Body of Man 710 The Infant..draweth the nourishment into the Liuer through the vmbilicall veine by a naturall instinct. [...] 1667 Phil. Trans. II. 512 The Embrio doth breath, but not feed, through the Umbilical vessels. [...] 1774 GOLDSMITH Nat. Hist. (1862) I. ii. 158 The bloodvessels that go to the placenta..are plainly seen issuing from the navel (being therefore called the umbilical vessels). [...]
d. Connected on the female side.
1888 N. & Q. 7th Ser. V. 493/2 The direct lineal ancestress in the female line, or what is sometimes termed umbilical or uterine ancestress.
2. umbilical cord: a. The flexible string which attaches the foetus to the placenta; the navel-string.
[...] 1803 Med. Jrnl. IX. 74 He combats the opinion..that the death of the child necessarily follows from the neglect of tying the umbilical cord after delivery. [...]
fig. 1847 EMERSON Repr. Men, Swedenborg Wks. (Bohn) I. 334 With a force of many men, he could never break the umbilical cord which held him to nature. 1859 I. TAYLOR Logic in Theol. 217 That intercourse which..is linking England with India–that umbilical cord through which the circulation, to and fro, is going on. [...]
c. transf. (a) Astronaut. A cable or other linking device supplying essential liquid or electrical services; spec. the connection between a guided missile and its launching equipment, or that joining a space-walking astronaut to his craft. [...] (b) A cable or pipe providing a deep-sea diver with essential electrical and similar supplies. [...]
And two of its lesser-known but delightful cousins, umbicality:
1. A close or intimate connexion.
1646 SIR T. BROWNE Pseud. Ep. V. v. 240 In his immortall and diviner part hee seemed to hold a nearer coherence, and an umbilicality even with God himselfe.
The practice of looking steadfastly at the navel, followed by the Hesychasts, in expectation of an outward exhibition of the light supposed to dwell within the soul of man.
1874 J. H. BLUNT Dict. Sects 192/1 The Light theory and Umbilicanimism of the Hesychasts.
[image credit: public domain illustration from Emily A. M. Stoney's 1910 Practical Points in Nursing (4th ed.), posted to flickr by "perpetualplum"]