A harbinger is something that gives you a hint or an indication about what's going to happen in the future.
In other words, a harbinger foreshadows or announces the approach of some future event.
HAR bin jur
Part of speech:
(Countable nouns, like “bottle,” “piece,” and “decision,” are words for things that can be broken into exact units. You talk about “a bottle,” “three pieces,” and “many decisions.”
Likewise, talk about one harbinger or multiple harbingers.)
"Harbinger" is also a verb: something harbingers the event that's coming up. But that usage seems rare.
How to use it:
Long ago, harbingers were the people you'd send out ahead of your group to get the lodgings or campground ready for everybody. We don't use the word like that anymore, but you can still see how a harbinger today is like that: it shows up earlier than the real thing and helps other people get ready.
So, talk about one thing being the harbinger of another thing.
Your meaning can be negative and even spooky, as in "a harbinger of evil," "a harbinger of illness," "a harbinger of apocalypse."
But you can also be positive, as in "a harbinger of spring," "a harbinger of good fortune," "a harbinger of peace," "a harbinger of victory."
You could be less specific and say something is "a harbinger of things to come," or "a harbinger of what's to happen in the future," but those phrases are redundant. I don't recommend them.
Feel free to leave out the "of" phrase if your meaning is clear: "This is a fluke, not a harbinger."
Why do you need "harbinger" in your expressive vocabulary if you already know "omen"? It's true that both words can refer to either good or evil things to come, and both words can be used as verbs, too. But an omen has a mystical, magical, fortune-telling flavor to it, whereas a harbinger is more of a real indicator or a real signal.
I hope this one afternoon of cool breezes is a harbinger of real autumn weather. We've had record-breaking heat all summer.
Human reasoning can be so silly. We see harbingers in randomness and then retroactively validate them on a super-selective basis.
Look away from the screen to explain the definition in your own words. You’ll know you understand what "harbinger" means when you can explain it without saying "indication" or "warning."
Think of a time you realized something was going to turn out really well or really poorly, and fill in the blanks: "_____ was definitely a harbinger of (success/good luck/wonderful changes/bad luck/failure/disaster.)"
Example: "My daughter's new ability to hold her own bottle was definitely a harbinger of more wonderful changes. From that point, taking care of her became much easier."
Spend at least 20 seconds occupying your mind with the game and quote below. Then try the review questions. Don’t go straight to the review now—let your working memory empty out first.
Playing With Words:
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A Point Well Made:
Thomas à Kempis: “Know all and you will pardon all.”
1. The closest opposite of HARBINGER is
2. Relax, folks. It's a comet, not a harbinger _____.
A. of the earth
B. in an apocalypse
C. of doom
Answers are below.
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Disclaimer: Word meanings presented here are expressed in plain language and are limited to common, useful applications only. Readers interested in authoritative and multiple definitions of words are encouraged to check a dictionary. Likewise, word meanings, usage, and pronunciations are limited to American English; these elements may vary across world Englishes.
I used to apply today's word too narrowly. My friends and I played this majorly creepy board game called Atmosfear: The Harbingers, which made me think that a harbinger was only something that foretold gloom and doom. Actually, a harbinger can indicate something pleasant, too.
Similarly, we can avoid applying abject too narrowly in the phrase "abject poverty." Lots of things can be acerbic, not just "acerbic wit." Kilter is useful outside of the phrase "off kilter." And lots of stuff can be bated, not just "bated breath." Off the top of your head, could you put each of these words in a fresh phrase?
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