On Inauguration Day, not everyone will be talking about the inauguration of the next U.S. president; some (like me) will be talking about the animals hidden within the word itself. Join me for a journey back to ancient Rome to reveal the birds behind the words inaugural, inauguration, auspicious, auspices, and more.
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On Inauguration Day, not everyone is talking about the inauguration of the next U.S. president; some (like me) are talking about the animals hidden within the word itself. Listen to my radio commentary for NPR below (or on KQED’s website). Here is the transcript for your pleasure.
On January 20th, not everyone will be talking about the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States; some of us — well, probably only me — will be talking about the word INAUGURATION itself and the animals hidden within.
An INAUGURATION is the act of starting something new — like a business or a presidency — and its origins go all the way back to the religion of ancient Rome when priests called augurs interpreted the will of the gods by studying the omens aka the auguries to predict whether the undertaking in question was auspicious or inauspicious — a practice referred to as “taking the auspices”
They did this by reading the flight patterns, songs, and eating habits of birds, a practice called “inauguare.”
So, through the root avis meaning “bird,” our feathered friends reside in the words auspices, auspicious, inauspicious, inaugurate, inaugural, and inauguration.
And inauguration became the word we use to elect politicians into office with the hope that their inauguration foreshadows an auspicious tenure.
Today, we know we don’t have to interpret the will of the gods to predict the future; and we don’t need to read the behavior of birds to tell us whether or not an elected official will carry out their duties favorably and with success. (We never really did.)
All we need to do is look at the behavior of the candidate — their experience, reputation, and ability to lead; their honesty, empathy, and vision; their ability to communicate, their commitment to the public good, their allegiance to democracy.
That should tell us everything we need to know.
With a perspective. This is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
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