Пуп, пупок

by Don  

One Russian root word for navel is пуп. That's enough to make any American laugh. And most of us will be so amused that we aren't going to bother to investigate the word further. But here at Russian Word of the Day we pride ourselves on taking interest in all sorts of things that other people simply ignore, and today the belly button is it. It is an end-stressed noun, so it declines like this:


I know, I know: the dative singular made you laugh again.

Anyhoo, пуп is etymologically the source word for navel, one that you will find once in a blue moon in a formal, scientific, or medical context. Thus Russian Wikipedia gives us this info:

Пуп — рубец на передней брюшной стенке, остающийся после удаления пуповины у новорожденного ребенка. Пупком обладают все плацентарные млекопитающие, у большинства из которых он выглядит небольшой линией без волосяного покрова. The navel is a scar on the anterior abdominal wall that is left over after the umbilical cord is removed from a new-born child. All placental mammals have a belly button. On the majority of them it appears as a small hairless line.

But when talking about a person's belly button, the Russians almost never say пуп. Instead they use the end-stressed diminutive пупок.


Sometimes you see belly dancers in movies and you can see their navels, but my mother, who used to take belly dancing classes, tells me that that is a no-no:

В традиционном арабском танце танцовщицы никогда не показывают свои пупки. In traditional Arab dance the dancers never show their belly buttons.

Every five or ten years I get into a conversation about the lint that can show up in one's belly button. It seems to be a gender based issue: men have it happen more often than women. Тhe subject was even brought up recently on the web:

В конце долгого дня я снимаю рубашку и в течении миллисекунды проверяю благополучное состояние своего достоинства перед тем, как принять душ. Оказывается, что почти всегда в пупке есть пушок. At the end of a long afternoon I take off my shirt and do a millisecond body check to ensure my manhood is still intact before taking a shower, and there always seems to be lint in my belly button. (source)

One of the amazing things about Russian is that you can make a diminutive of a diminutive, so the dimiminutive of the diminutive пупок is — are you ready for the? — пупочек. This one turns out to be stem stressed:


The word is mostly used to refer to a baby's belly button. There is a bit of a gender difference in the use of this word. Adult men will rarely use it. Mothers and grandmothers will use it more often. (I actually had one Russian man tell me no one used it, but that's simply not true.) For instance, on babyblog.ru I found this little gem:

Ещё в РД мне сказали обрабатывать пупочек только зелёнкой, на курсах нам говорили, что сначала перекисью. Back in the Maternity Center I was told to treat [the baby's] belly button just with brilliant green. In class we were told that we should start with peroxide.

And as long as we are talking about belly buttons, we should mention the English word omphaloskepsis, which is meditation using the belly button as a focus. That's got nothing to do with Russian. I just really like the word.


Comment from: Shady_arc [Visitor]

Upd: a medic I asked said that “пупок” is used, so “пуп” is just a basic root and a somewhat outdated (though widely understood) word for what is now commonly called “пупок".

Don responds: That was valuable criticism. I have updated the entry accordingly.

02/09/11 @ 07:23
Comment from: Edgar [Visitor]

When I visited the temple of Delphi,in Greece, where legend has it there was a super oracle, my Russian friends referred to it as the “пупок мира” or the center of the earth.

02/07/11 @ 14:06
Comment from: Shady_arc [Visitor]

The “properly speaking” part is, probably, of some etymological value, yet not really useful in contemporary language. I mean, “пуп” is marked as colloquial in dictionaries, and even that wikipedia article uses it just once. I am no medic… though I can ask one if you really think “пуп” is a medical term.

I think the word could completely go out of use (and at that stage one cannot discuss its “literary” or “spoken” usage), were it not for the expression “пуп земли".

02/07/11 @ 06:22

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