World Wide Words logo


Pronounced /ɛnˈɡæstrɪmɪθ/Help with IPA

This comes from Greek en, in, plus gaster, belly, plus muthos. speech, so it is the exact equivalent of Latin ventriloquist, which comes from venter, belly, plus loqui, speak.

Engastrimyth is now hardly common (indeed it’s not in most current dictionaries) and on the rare occasions that it appears is never applied to the much debased “gottle of gear” entertainer’s chat with a dummy. Instead, it refers to the classical soothsaying phenomenon of speaking without appearing to speak, associated especially with prophetesses such as the famous Delphic Oracle, or with seers who acted as conduits for the voice of someone beyond the grave, such as the Biblical story of the Witch of Endor.

Belly seems to have been something of a euphemism, in fact, since some writers thought that the voice came from the genitals. From ancient times up to the eighteenth century, the phenomenon was usually linked to religious frenzy or demonic possession, though it was frequently denounced as fakery. It was only at the end of the eighteenth century that ventriloquism became a form of entertainment and it seems to have been rare that engastrimyth was applied to it — then usually only in rather formal literary contexts.

Page created 9 Jun. 2001

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 9 June 2001.