What does ‘augural’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: augural….

When I encountered the word augural, I assumed I didn’t know what it meant.

I found it in the moving and insightful memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken, addressing the tragic stillbirth of her first child. Here is how she used the word:

I liked the idea of trying to summarize someone’s best dreams in a handful of characters, a kind of augural haiku.

If I had turned my brain on, however, I would have realized that I already knew the word inaugural, meaning a beginning — as in a presidential inauguration.

Similarly, the word augural, signifies the future — either something ominous, portentous, or auspicious. Crows, shown in the photo at the top of this post, are often seen as a negative augural sign — a symbol of bad luck or death.

The root word is Latin. An augur was a religious official in ancient Rome who foretold events by observing and interpreting signs and omens. The word is thought to be from the Old Latin augos meaning “increase,” and is thought to refer to an increase in crops as a result of rituals performed by said religious official.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Feb. 27/19.

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