Auspices and Guises

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In an interview with Palestinian film-maker Hany Abu-Assad about his film Omar, NPR’s Rachel Martin made the following statement:

He [Omar] goes there [to the other side of a wall that separates him from his sweetheart] under the auspices of planning some kind of attack with Nadia’s brother…”

The context implies that planning the attack is a subterfuge for Omar, an excuse to be with Nadia. Martin’s use of the expression “under the auspices of” is inappropriate in this context.

Auspices is one of those words we inherited from ancient Roman religion.

In ancient Rome, the auspex observed the flight of birds for the purpose of obtaining an omen from the gods. The work of the auspex was known as “taking the auspices.” When the auspices were favorable, people proceeded with whatever enterprise they were planning, confident of success.

In modern usage, auspices has come to mean “patronage.” It refers to influence exerted by a person or organization on behalf of an undertaking. This patronage usually spells the difference between success and failure. Here are some examples of the usage:

Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he [Christopher Columbus] completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean.

Extended Participation in General Multilateral Treaties concluded under the auspices of the League of Nations (title of a monograph)

For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Commonwealth’s scientists are coming together under the auspices of the Royal Society for a groundbreaking conference…

“In the guise of” is probably the expression the NPR interviewer was reaching for.

Worded both as “in the guise of” and “under the guise of,” the expression means “an assumed appearance or pretense.” The expression can be used to mean simply “dressed as” or “disguised as”; for example, one might go to a costume party “in the guise of Cinderella.” More often, the pretense is intended to deceive:

If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. –James Madison

Mr. Fox befriended Jemima Puddle Duck in the guise of a friendly neighbor.

Urban Shield … exists under the guise of fighting terrorism and “disaster preparedness” in heavily-populated areas.

Protestors stormed a McDonald’s franchise … demanding justice for an employee they say was fired under the guise of feeding the homeless, but was really let go for political reasons.

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1 thought on “Auspices and Guises”

  1. Yeah, that’s pretty basic bad vocabulary and demonstrates even more (as if it’s needed) the extent to which NPR should not be held up as a high standard by anyone. I don’t know where that idea ever came from, and I especially don’t understand why it has survived. Nowhere are you more likely to hear affected and uneducated mispronunciations and poor word choice. NPR is horrible.

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