Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Ron wrote, “What is the origin of the word august? I heard somebody today refer to themselves as among the august group of speakers covered in a publication. When used in that context, is the accent on the second syllable? How is it related to the month August, and is the word gusto a cousin of august?”

AUGust is the pronunciation for the month, and auGUSTis the pronunciation for the word meaning majestic, sublime, and revered. Both are ultimately indebted to a Latin verb, augere, which meant to increase, to magnify.

The name of the month, however, came through a more convoluted route. It was adapted from the name of the emperor Octavius Caesar. After his rise to power, he was entitled to the honorific augustus, worshipful and eminent. From that point on, he was known as Augustus Caesar—or, in the Latin style, Caesar Augustus:

“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” [Luke II, 1-7, New American Standard Bible]

Gusto (relish or zest) is not related at all. It came from a Latin word meaning taste.

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

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