auspicious

Last June I came across a blog post that began:

A few years ago,
an 8 year old boy came into my classroom
and thoughtfully commented

“Time is suspicious”

Player with words that I am, I left this comment on the post: “I’ll change that first letter to the one that’s to its left on the keyboard and say that I like time when it’s auspicious.”

Suspicaz/suspicious and auspiciososo/auspicious are related, with both tracing back to the Latin verb specere that meant ‘to see, look at.’ In the first case the prefix is Latin sub, one of whose meanings was ‘up from under,’ so that the verb suspicere was literally ‘to look up at.’ Later the word developed the senses ‘to look at secretly, to look askance at,’ and eventually ‘to mistrust, to suspect.’ (By the way, if you’re suspicious about the Spanish adjective suspicaz, I’ll grant that it’s less common than the form sospechoso.)

In the case of auspiciososo/auspicious, the first element isn’t a prefix but comes from the Latin noun avis that meant ‘bird’ and that is the predecessor of Spanish ave (which is less common now than the unrelated pájaro). The compound Latin noun auspex, with stem auspic-, meant, in the words of Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary, ‘ a bird inspector, bird-seer, i. e. one who observes the flight, singing, or feeding of birds, and foretells future events therefrom; an augur, soothsayer, diviner.’ Yes, the ancients believed, as many people in the modern world still do, that random arrangements of physical objects are messages that tell us something about what is to happen in our lives. Although omens can be good or bad, auspiciososo/auspicious has gravitated to the positive end of the spectrum. To designate the negative pole English uses inauspicious, but Spanish apparently lacks an etymologically related counterpart (though an online search turned up hits for inauspicioso in Portuguese).

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dianeandjack
    Oct 03, 2012 @ 09:11:31

    So interesting! In Thailand, and many other countries in Asia a soothsayer, monk, or someone with respect and knowledge of astrology consults the charts of couples wanting to get married, one, to see if they will be suitable for each other, and two, to find an auspicious date to be married on, which, seemingly is very, very important!

    Reply

  2. shoreacres
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 21:31:22

    I took a bit of a turn and landed first at “spectacles”, probably because I was reading about “seer stones” tonight, and the Urim and Thummim, and James Jesse Strang, the Mormon King of Beaver Island, Michigan .Things didn’t go too well for his kingdom in the end, but it was interesting to read about the role of the seeing-stones in their society and the ways in which they imitated Joseph Smith’s ways of determining what might or might not be auspicious for them.

    As for auspicious marriages, one of my regular readers happens to be a professionally trained astrologer who teaches and publishes. I’ll ask her if she knows of such a study.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Oct 06, 2012 @ 04:06:53

      I see from Wikipedia that Urim and Thummim seem to be related to cleromancy, which is “a form of divination using sortition, casting of lots, or casting bones or stones, in which an outcome is determined by means that normally would be considered random, such as the rolling of dice, but are sometimes believed to reveal the will of God, or other supernatural entities.” As I result, I see how that ties in to “seer stones” and the treating of flights of birds as omens.

      I’d never heard about James Jesse Strang, but the article in the good old Century Magazine (bound volumes of which I used to browse through in the main library at the University of Texas) did a good job of summarizing his life. His death was inauspicious. It remains to be seen whether marriages arranged under the auspices of astrology are in general any more auspicious than those that occur without such intervention. I’ll be curious to see if your reader can find any studies like the one I proposed.

      Reply

    • dianeandjack
      Oct 06, 2012 @ 08:29:43

      I’m thinking that perhaps the auspicious days chosen for marriages by the astrologists, shamans, monks, and divine folks and the hoop-la that accompanies these marriages may cause them to last because of all the energy and beliefs that go into them. It would be interesting to see if it is true.

      Reply

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