Colleen Patrick-Goudreau: Inauguration

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Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says the word inauguration is rooted in ancient times when our feathered friends were used to predict the future.

On Jan. 20, not everyone is talking about the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States. Some of us well, probably only me are 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 politics of ancient Rome when religion was organized under a strict system of priestly offices, one of the most powerful of which was made up of the nine augurs.

The main role of the augurs was to interpret the will of the gods by studying the omens, aka the auguries, a practice referred to as “taking the auspices.”

They did this by reading the flight patterns, songs and eating habits of birds.

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An augur was literally “a diviner of birds.” The augurs were consulted prior to any major decision be it related to war, commerce, or politics and were depended upon to predict whether the undertaking in question was auspicious or inauspicious.

And so, through the root avis meaning “bird,” our feathered friends reside in the words auspices, auspicious, inauspicious, inaugurate, inaugural, and inauguration.

The Latin term inaugurare, meaning "to foretell the future from the flights of birds" came to apply to the installation of someone in office after the appropriate omens — or predictions — had been determined.

This 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

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau  is an author and animal activist living in Oakland.