• augur •
Pronunciation: aw-gêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: To foresee, foretell, presage.
Notes: The family of today's Good Word includes an adjective, augural, and a noun augury "the process of foretelling the future". It serves without affix as the personal noun: an augur is someone who augurs. Be careful not to confuse this word with auger "a drill bit, a drill with a spiral shank and a cross handle": all but the initial vowel in today's word are U's.
In Play: People can augur: "A good student can augur from the expression on the teacher's face whether the class will be a good one." Events and actions can augur, too: "Replacing the chief financial officer doesn't augur well for the future of the company." Either way, there must be a sign or set of signs to augur from.
Word History: The original augurs were members of a Roman profession whose job it was to predict the future from the flights of birds. The first hypothesis is that since these men intended to increase productivity of the crops, the word is based on Latin augere "to increase" (related to English augment). But auguries were intended to predict, not control, the future, making this explanation unlikely. The alternative hypothesis assumes this word was originally associated with birds. This leads us to a compound consisting of av- "bird" (as in aviary) + gar-, the root of garrire "to talk". We find gar- in Latin garrulus "talkative" (English garrulous) and in Sanskrit gar- "to shout, call". Since the Romans wrote U as V, the replacement of V with U in this word is not surprising. (I augur that Rodger Collins, who suggested today's Good Word, will receive considerable gratitude for that gesture from all of us.)