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late 14c., "divination from the flight of birds," from Old French augure "divination, soothsaying, sorcery, enchantment," or directly from Latin augurium "divination, the observation and interpretation of omens" (see augur). Figurative sense of "omen, portent, indication" is from 1797 (also often in plural as auguries).
prophetic divining of the future by observation of natural phenomena-particularly the behaviour of birds and animals and the examination of their entrails and other parts, but also by scrutiny of man-made objects and situations. The term derives from the official Roman augurs, whose constitutional function was not to foretell the future but to discover whether or not the gods approved of a proposed course of action, especially political or military. Two types of divinatory sign, or omen, were recognized: the most important was that deliberately watched for, such as lightning, thunder, flights and cries of birds, or the pecking behaviour of sacred chickens; of less moment was that which occurred casually, such as the unexpected appearance of animals sacred to the gods-the bear (Artemis), wolf (Apollo), eagle (Zeus), serpent (Asclepius), and owl (Minerva), for instance-or such other mundane signs as the accidental spilling of salt, sneezing, stumbling, or the creaking of furniture.