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Word of the week: sinister

Monday, 8 July, 2019

The adjective sinister, with its meaning of evil, entered the English vocabulary early in the 15th century. It came from the Old French senestre, sinistre “contrary, false; unfavourable; to the left”, and its origins are in the Latin sinister, meaning “left, on the left side”.

The Latin word was used in augury, the Roman religious practice of interpreting omens from the flights of birds. Flights of birds, seen on the left side, were regarded as bringing misfortune, and in this way sinister acquired a sense of “harmful, adverse.”

When the augur interpreted flights of birds, it was referred to “taking the auspices”. This comes from the Latin auspicium and auspex, literally “one who looks at birds”.

Flight of birds


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