- To foresee a positive or negative outcome of events
- To prophesy or predict the future
- A mystic who reads nature or animals for signs of the future before important events or ceremonies
Whenever we have a big decision or important event coming up that we hope will go well, it's always encouraging to see a sign that it will. Whether evidence actually or seemingly comes to light that portends good tidings, a small token of good fortune can go a long way to making us feel better about what lies in store. And when these signs augur a positive outcome, it's usually more likely that we make it happen.
Augur is a verb that means to foretell whether something will turn out favorably or unfavorably. While the potential outcome that someone or something augurs is independent of the actual outcome, to augur is to take that person or thing, however vague, as an indication of future events. Unlike simply predicting the future, when one reads a phenomenon as auguring whether what is to come is good or bad, it is usually in relation to a certain event scheduled to take place. For example, the local sports columnist's favorable pre-game write-up can augur the victory of your team in their next game. The secondary meaning of augur's verb form does mean generally to predict, though. E.g. finding money on the ground could augur winning the lottery, before one even buys a ticket.
Augur can also be used as a noun to mean a person who interprets natural occurrences for indications of how the future will unfold. Though there are certainly modern-day fortune-tellers, augurs were more common in ancient societies, particularly in the Roman Empire. In those times, public officials and leaders would seek out an augur before pursuing major policies such as embarking on military campaigns or building new monuments. Roman augurs typically interpreted flight paths of birds to determine heavenly will. In a looser sense, anyone who points something out to be a sign of what lies ahead can be said to be an augur. A tarot reader is certainly an augur, but so is your friend who predicted they would have a good day after their favorite song woke them up on their radio alarm.
Example: The daily marches by protesters augur an unfavorable end to the politician's career.
Example: The leaves on the ground augur the winter mere weeks away.
Example: Among his coworkers, Brian had become quite the augur of who would be fired next.
The word augur first entered English in the 1500s as a noun adapted from the Latin augur, the word for the religious oracle who read natural signs to predict favorable or unfavorable outcomes, especially at the behest of Roman statesmen and leaders. Prior to this use, however, it is unclear where the word came from. Some experts theorize that it comes from the Latin word augere, meaning "to increase," as in to predict an increase in the yield of crops at harvest. However, the prevailing theory among linguists is that it derives from the Latin avis, meaning "bird," as the observation of the flight patterns and reading the entrails of birds was one of the predominant methods by which augurs foretold their prophecies. The verb form of the word arrived in English in the early 1600s.
Augurs: This is the third-person conjugation of augur, used when a third-party is making a prediction of some kind.
Example: She augurs football games so accurately that her coworkers were intimidated when she joined their fantasy football league.
Augured: The past tense of augur indicates when a good or bad result was foretold in the past.
Example: Those who oppose the two-party system point to the fact that George Washington augured ill when the other Founders proposed forming parties.
Auguring: This active form illustrates when someone or something is in the process of predicting how the future will unfold.
Example: He was so anxious by nature that after watching a few frightening news stories, he began auguring a pessimistic future.
Augural: This adjective form of augur means relating to divination or seeing into the future.
Example: The fortune-teller was well known for his augural prowess, as many celebrities sought his counsel before making big decisions.
Augury (Plural: Auguries): An augury is a noun meaning the sign or indicator of the future, itself.
Example: Many people still interpret a black cat crossing their path as an augury of misfortune.
From Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined:
The goal of this book is to explain the facts of the past and present, not to augur the hypotheticals of the future.
In stating his objectives in writing the book, Pinker clarifies that he only means to analyze historical trends, not to prophesy, or augur, the shape that the future might take.
- August augurs the end of summer.
- One who can augur stock market trends can augment their wealth.
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of augur. Did you use augur in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.