A Word A Day : Portent

Word of 3rd July 2007: A Word A Day-Portent


( Noun )

Portent (POR tent): an omen; a sign of something coming in the future

• The distant rumbling we heard this morning was a portent of the thunderstorm that hit our area this afternoon.

• Stock-market investors looked for portents in their complicated charts and graphs. They hoped that the market's past behavior would give them a clue as to what would happen in the future.

Portentous is the adjective form of portent, meaning ominous or filled with portent. But it is very often used to mean pompous or self-consciously serious or ominous-sounding. It can also mean amazing or prodigious.

• A portentous speech is not one that you would enjoy listening to.

• A portentous announcement might be one that tried to create an inappropriate sense of alarm in those listening to it.

Portentous can also mean amazing or astonishing. A portentous sunset might be a remarkable glorious one rather than an ominous or menacing one.

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