Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Word Nerd Sez: I is for ...


I haven't been able to escape this word for the past week, and certainly not today. It's understandable; a lot of people, myself included, are excited about the new president finally taking office. Then there are the crowds! The speeches! The ball gowns! What's really piqued my interest, though, is the etymology! Hearing the word over and over made me wonder: does it mean anything that inauguration contains the word augur* in it?

After perusing the dictionary for a while, my hunch was confirmed: inauguration is from the Latin inauguratus, meaning to practice or consecrate through augury. For those of you who aren't geeks for Roman mythology and culture like I am, an augur was a diviner, someone who purported to tell the future by reading omens. Sometimes those omens were found the flight of birds, or by looking at patterns made by casting animal entrails on the ground. Some speculate that the word "augur" itself comes from the Latin avis, meaning bird. Most linguists, however, think the evidence indicates the origin is from the Latin aug-, meaning to increase or augment.

I find it fascinating that the word we use to describe the ceremonial induction of the president is related to an ancient pagan ceremony. As I read further on the subject, the augur's role wasn't really to foretell the future, but to indicate whether a decision already made would find favor with the gods. I guess that's not too different from how our democracy works. We decide who should best represent us in the government, and then pray like hell they'll do the right thing. Hopefully our new president, with the help of the Congress and even ordinary people like us, will win Fortune's favor in the coming four years. We sure could use it.

*Not to be confused with the word auger, a tool for boring holes, which derives from the Old English word for spear.

No comments:

Post a Comment