The august origins of August: A month and so much more!

Posted on August 21, 2023

While I was writing a blog post on the different ways to pronounce the French word août, (August, in English), my curiosity got the better of me: I wanted to know whether there were also any difficulties with the English pronunciation of the word, since English isn’t my mother tongue. I quickly looked at the resources available online and learned far more than just how to pronounce the word!

Pronunciation

I found a 30-second video that provided a clear explanation of the different pronunciations, which vary depending on whether you're in North America or the United Kingdom. The difference lies in the first syllable: in North America, August is pronounced like the first vowel sound in father or daughter; in the United Kingdom, like the vowel sound in more or war.

Word origin: From Augustus to August

In English, August comes from the Latin Augustus, the name of the Roman emperor for whom the eighth month of the year was named in 8 BCE. Before this time, the month was known as Sextilis, because it was the sixth month in the original 10-month Roman calendar.

The proper noun: August

You’re probably very familiar with the proper noun August. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s used to refer to the summer month, during which we are likely to be out soaking up the last of the summer sun before returning to our fall routines.

Like all months of the year, August is capitalized in English. Its French equivalent août isn’t. In French, the months and days of the week are written in lowercase, unless, of course, they appear at the beginning of a sentence.

Here are some examples of the word August used as a proper noun:

Half the staff takes their vacation in August.

This year in Quebec, the school year starts on Monday, August 28.

The adjective: august

Did you know that august (with a lower case a) is used as an adjective? Don’t be surprised if it’s not part of your everyday vocabulary! It’s not an everyday word! The word august (with a lower case a) is a formal word that can mean “great,” “grand,” “impressive” or “dignified.”

Here are some examples of the word august used as an adjective:

The graduates wish to thank the King for honouring the ceremony with his august presence.

We enjoyed many august performances at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

And you might think that the proper noun “August” and the adjective “august” are pronounced the same way, but they’re not. With the proper noun “August,” you put the stress on the first syllable; with the adjective “august,” you put the stress on the second syllable.

Derivatives: Adverb and noun

Derivatives of the word august include the adverb augustly and the noun augustness.

Just like august (the adjective), augustly is a formal word used to emphasize great importance.

Here’s an example of augustly used as an adverb:

The University of Ottawa’s Tabaret Hall stands augustly in front of a large lawn on campus.

The noun augustness is rarely used these days. It refers to the state or quality of being august, majestic or grandiose.

Both a first name and a last name

In some French-speaking regions, such as in my native Haiti, the last name Auguste is quite common and is generally spelled with an e at the end. According to the GENEANET website, the name was often given to former black slaves after 1848 in the Antilles (specifically, Haiti) and on the French island of La Réunion.

August can also be a first name in English and French (Auguste). Some babies are still given this name today. However, it hasn’t topped the list of the most popular baby names in recent decades. According to the French website Journal des femmes, approximately 757 children were named Auguste in 2021.

Many famous (or should I say august?) personalities have been given the once-popular first name August/Auguste over the years. Some of these include Canadian Indigenous actor August Schellenberg, an award-winning performer, who worked in theatre, television and film; American playwright August Wilson, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; and French impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

The last word on August

So, if you’re looking for a not-so-common name for your family’s new arrival, why not slip August or Auguste onto the list? And if you’ve been eagerly awaiting the month of August to take your vacation and visit august tourist sites like Ottawa’s Parliament Hill or Quebec’s Chateau Frontenac, I hope you’re enjoying your time off!

Have you ever done your own digging on a word that intrigued you? What did you uncover? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

Get to know Sophia Désir

Sophia Désir

Writing is one of Sophia’s favourite pastimes. She produced a radio soap opera and published several novels in her native Haiti. Sophia also worked in radio for more than 10 years in Port-au-Prince, covering historical and other topics. In 2021, she joined the Language Portal team, where she provides administrative support and coordinates the Our Languages blog.

 

Categories

 

Leave a comment

Please consult the “Comments and interaction” section on the Canada.ca Terms and conditions page before adding your comment. The Language Portal of Canada reviews comments before they’re posted. We reserve the right to edit, refuse or remove any question or comment that violates these commenting guidelines.

By submitting a comment, you permanently waive your moral rights, which means that you give the Government of Canada permission to use, reproduce, edit and share your comment royalty-free, in whole or in part, in any manner it chooses. You also confirm that nothing in your comment infringes third party rights (for example, the use of a text from a third party without his or her permission).

Join in the conversation and share your comments!

Comments

Comments are displayed in the language they were submitted.

Read comments

Submitted by D. Arbour on August 22, 2023, at 8:08

Interesting read! I hadn't realized at some point the month of August was named differently. I went down an Internet black hole trying to figure out why the months following August clearly had numbers 7 (September), 8 (October), 9 (November) and 10 (December) in their names. Now I found 6!

Submitted by SOPHIA DÉSIR on August 23, 2023, at 13:08

Thank you for your comment. Indeed, the month was known as Sextilis, because it was the sixth month in the original 10-month Roman calendar.

Submitted by Chris Ewing-Weisz on August 22, 2023, at 9:08

I greatly appreciated your clarification of the different pronunciations of the French août and its derivatives, and have also enjoyed this article on the English word.

One additional note is required on the English word(s): the month August is accented on the first syllable, but the adjective august is accented on the second. (I checked this in a dictionary just to be sure!)

Submitted by SOPHIA DÉSIR on August 23, 2023, at 13:08

Thank you for your comment. I appreciate that you took the time to add a note regarding the different pronunciations of the month and adjective. I'll be adding this interesting fact to my blog post.

Submitted by Magaly Charles on August 23, 2023, at 22:08

Very interesting! Honestly, I learned a lot of new things about one of my favorite months of the year. You did an august job, Sophia Désir.

Submitted by SOPHIA DÉSIR on August 24, 2023, at 11:08

August deserves to be on your list of favorite months. Thank you for your comment, Magaly!
English