Thursday, January 22, 2009


Last Tuesday was Inauguration Day, so naturally, the word inauguration came up on my program.

Buried right in there is the word augury, a Roman religious practice of divination, prophesy, and portent. While observation of the movements of birds was the original exercise, later methods were legion: examining the entrails of slaughtered animals, watching the shapes of passing clouds, looking for patterns in coagulating cheese, etc.

A formal ceremony of this nature accompanied the installation of officials, and when important policy decisions had to be made, a priest known as an augur would try to determine the best course of action among the possibilities. Rather than simple prediction of the future, it was an attempt to discern the will of the gods, who had already set a course of action.

I have several pages devoted to divination in my Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition; here is a sample, each divination name followed by the activity or object observed.

• chaomancy: cloud formations
• cheiromancy: palm reading
• foliomancy: reading tea leaves
• gastromancy: stomach rumblings
• ichnomancy: footprints
• mazomancy: the breast chosen by a nursing infant
• myomancy: the movement of mice
• oneiromancy: dreams
• pegomancy: bubbles rising in a fountain
• tyromancy: patterns in coagulating cheese


Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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