ha·​rus·​pex hə-ˈrə-ˌspeks How to pronounce haruspex (audio)
ˈha-rə- How to pronounce haruspex (audio)
plural haruspices hə-ˈrə-spə-ˌsēz How to pronounce haruspex (audio)
: a diviner in ancient Rome basing his predictions on inspection of the entrails of sacrificial animals

Did you know?

Haruspex was formed in Latin by the combination of "haru-" (which is akin to "chordē," the Greek word for "gut") and "-spex" (from the verb specere, meaning "to look"). Appropriately, "haruspex" can be roughly defined as "one who looks at guts." The ancient Romans had a number of ways of determining whether the gods approved of a particular course of action. Such divination was called "augury," and a haruspex was a type of "augur," an official diviner of ancient Rome. (Other augurs divined the will of the gods through slightly less gruesome means, such as observing the behavior of birds or tracking celestial phenomena.) "Haruspex," like "augur," has developed a general sense of "one who prophesies," but this use is somewhat rare.

Word History


borrowed from Latin haruspex, harispex, from a stem haru-, hari-, presumed to mean "intestines" (probably going back to Indo-European hr̥H-u-, u-stem derivative of hr̥H- "gut, cord made from animal intestines") + -spex, noun derivative of a verbal base -spec- "see, observe" — more at yarn entry 1, spy entry 1

Note: The noun stem haru- is unattested aside from this word and a derivative, hariolus "soothsayer, diviner." The relatively rare Latin nouns hīra "intestine" and hernia, hirnia "rupture of an organ through connective tissue, inguinal hernia" (see hernia) are of uncertain relation; hīra would be difficult to produce from hr̥H- in a way compatible with sound laws, and hernia, though conceivably from herH-n-, is not very close semantically.

First Known Use

1584, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of haruspex was in 1584


Dictionary Entries Near haruspex

Cite this Entry

“Haruspex.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/haruspex. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!