August has arrived. If you’re in Europe, it’s likely you’re taking an extended holiday. If you’re anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, you might just be trying to stay cool. August is the eighth month of the Gregorian calendar, and the sixth month of the Roman calendar. Its original name was Sextilus, Latin for “sixth month.” In 8 BCE, the month was named in honor of Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor.
The emperor was a man of many names. He was born Gaius Octavius, the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. He took the extended name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus in 44 after Caesar’s assassination. Though in English texts, he was often referred to simply as Octavian. Then in 31, he defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra to gain control over the empire. Finally in 27, when he was named emperor, he was given the honorary title Augustus.
When we describe something as august, we are saying it is majestic and inspires reverence or admiration. The word can also take the form of an adverb (augustly) and a noun (augustness). August also relates to augury, the act of divination (telling the future), particularly by the behavior of birds and animals and the examination of their entrails and other parts. Augurs were the official Roman soothsayers, whose job was not to tell the future so much as to determine if the Roman gods approved of a planned course of action.
And here’s a usage not heard often: an auguste is a “type of circus clown who usually wears battered ordinary clothes and is habitually maladroit or unlucky.” May your August be filled with favorable omens and devoid of unlucky circus clowns.