Printable Version
Pronunciation: aw-spi-shês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Marked by good omens, promising success, predicting a good future, lucky.

Notes: Today's Good Word is the adjective from auspice, a word which still retains the sense of a good omen, which is carried over into auspicious, even though auspice(s) is used mostly today in the sense of "sponsorship", as "a concert under the auspices of the city council." We also have a verb, to auspicate, meaning "to launch with a ceremony intended to bring good luck, as "to auspicate a ship by breaking a bottle of champagne over its bow." The negative adjective is inauspicious "unlucky".

In Play: We hope all signs are auspicious for a happy and prosperous New Year for all our readers. However, we can expect some things to go wrong despite our heartiest wishing: "The clouds along the horizon were an inauspicious sign for Gay Lavent's lawn party." Gamblers in casinos and on Wall Street look for auspices before they place their bets: "The stock market took early retirement of the president as an auspicious sign for the future health of the Acme Widget Company."

Word History: Today's word comes from Latin auspicium "bird divination" derived from auspex, auspic- "bird diviner" + -ious, an English adjective suffix. Auspex came from an earlier compound comprising avi- "bird" + spec- "watch" + -s. The original Latin word referred to a fortune-teller who read the future in flights of birds. The root spec- underlies many Latin borrowings in English meaning "look at, watch" such as spectator and inspect. In Greek the same stem reversed the [p] and [k] sounds in skopos "on-looker", which we see in the English borrowings telescope and microscope. This root became German Spion (from Old Germanic speh-on). Spion was borrowed by French as espion, next borrowed by English in espionage. Russian borrowed it as shpion, a word that motivated SMERSH, an acronym for smert' shpionam "death to spies", the Soviet WWII counterintelligence agency featured in Ian Fleming's James Bond series. (Jane Skafte's decision to suggest today's Good Word was a very auspicious moment for all of us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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