Basque Fact of the Week: The Basque Word ‘agur’

2020 has been a tough year for many. There is the stay-at-home, social distancing, mask wearing to protect us all from catching the coronavirus, but then there is all of the collateral effects that resulted: small businesses that struggled to stay afloat, kids attending classes virtually and missing out on all of the social aspects of school, parents juggling a million things at home while still trying to work, and, of course, the overworked frontline responders and medical staff that have endeavored to keep us all as safe as possible during this time. As we say goodbye to 2020 and welcome 2021, let’s take a look at that hallowed Basque word, agur.

Agur, agur! Fireworks image from Wikimedia.
  • Agur is a very versatile word in Euskara. We often hear it used in the context of goodbye. For example, agur, banoa means “goodbye, I’m going.” In this sense, agur-afaria is a farewell dinner.
  • However, agur has a broader meaning than just goodbye. It can also mean hello. You can use it when greeting people. Jaun-andereok, agur means “good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” It is maybe a bit more formal than something like kaixo, but conveys a similar sense of welcome. agur-hitzak are words of greeting. agur egin, literally to “make agur,” means “to welcome” or “to greet,” as does agur esan (literally “say agur”). The song Agur Jaunak, often sung to formally greet people, can also be used to say goodbye. It’s a way of giving honor to distinguished guests.
  • Just like in English where we can say goodbye to more than just people, agur can express that same idea. Take Gauzak aldatzen ez badira, agur zure pribilegioak! (If things don’t change, you can say goodbye to your privileges!) Or agur, gure basoak! (our forests are gone!) Both express a loss of something, either physical or more abstract.
  • Agur can also have a religious context, conveying veneration: Jainko egiazkoari bakarrik zor zaizkion agurrak (the adoration that is due to only the one true God). agur on, or “good agur,” means veneration.
  • Interestingly, the word agur likely comes from Latin, ultimately from the word augurium, which means “omen, announcement, hint of something future.” However, there is no denying that it has become something new in Euskara, a fundamental element of Basque culture.

Primary sources: El enigma de nuestra palabra «agur» by Felix Mugurutza; Elhuyar Hiztegia

3 thoughts on “Basque Fact of the Week: The Basque Word ‘agur’”

  1. Greetings and happy, prosperous new year to all,

    Interesting theory. Augurium is the office and work of an Augur. An Augur was a roman priest in charge in interpreting omen and prophecy by watching the flight and cries of birds, etc.
    Auguro is to act as an Augur, to take auguries–Locus auguratur–the place is consecrated by auguries– In general is to foretell or to have a presentiment. In French, (including the French speaking Basque) as an example, –when we think about someone with whom we would like to speak and the phone ring , if it is that person, we say,—C’est une bonne augure even though the nature of the conversation may be good , bad or neutral.
    bon nouvel an! 2020 could have been worse!

  2. From Jon Aske, as posted on Facebook: In modern Basque, agur with the meaning “hello” is only found in Iparralde, as far as I know. Many languages have a single word for the meanings “hello” and “goodbye”, such as Hebrew shalom, Arabic salaam, and Hawaiian aloha. The word does come from Latin augurium, whose main meaning was “the observation and interpretation of omens, augury” or “an omen, sign, event interpreted by augury”, but the word was also used in Late Latin or Vulgar Latin with the sense of “good omen”, that is, “good luck”, which lends itself to be used as a greeting in which one wishes another luck. Interestingly, I understand that Greek also borrowed this Latin word with a very simiar sense. The word became gouri in Modern Greek, which means “good luck” and “good luck charm” (the plural is gouria).

  3. Greetings,
    Of course, Augurium is Latin. Office is Latin as well–it means the duty or work of the Augur. The duty and work of the Augur is to interpret omens, etc. An Augur is soothsayer, seer.

    In Latin Auguracio is soothsaying or divining.

    Augure means in French a Roman priest who interprets omens etc.

    There are Basques who speak French.

    Was it Miguel Sanz who said ” not all the Basques are in Euskadi, one can be a Basque and live somewhere else”.

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