What’s an ‘augury’?

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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: augury….

Sometimes, if I’m struggling with a word, I’ll stop to see if there’s anything in the root of it that seems vaguely familiar to me.

This was the case with the word augury, which I read in fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi’s wonderful memoir, cleverly titled I.MHere is how Mizrahi used it:

His ability to get them to safety struck her as an augury for a nice, well-provided-for future.

All at once, I saw the word augur, a verb that refers to the ability or tendency of a circumstance to portend a good or bad outcome. But here it was used as a noun. Could it mean the same thing?

Indeed, it does. An augury is a sign of what will happen in the future — an omen. And my quick work with a dictionary also revealed another, more historic, meaning for the word augur. In Ancient Rome, it was a religious official who observed natural signs — especially the behaviour of birds. He then interpreted these signs as indicators of divine approval or disapproval.

Use of the word peaked between 1858 and 1869 and it’s used rarely today. But the origin dates back to the late 14th century where it came from the Old French term, augurie, meaning “divination from the flight of birds.”

This, in turn, came from the Latin augurium meaning “divination, the observation and interpretation of omens.” Today — as shown in the photo at the top of this post — we get our omens from messages scrawled in the sand.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Jan. 29/20.

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