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Tom’s words

By Tom Chatfield   February 2009

The word “inauguration” entered English in the early 17th century from the Latin, inaugurare. This literally meant “the taking of auguries,” but had come to signify an official beginning because, in Roman times, any major undertaking was preceded by the consultation of augurs: priests who minutely examined the flight of birds to work out what the gods thought.

It’s rather the other way round now. A new president speaks, and the world probes his every tic for portents—witness the wild claim that Obama’s mangling of his oath means he is not, technically, president. Still, inaugural addresses are mass verbal events…

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