HARBINGER, originally one who provides a shelter or lodging for an army. The word is derived from the M.E. and O.Fr. herbergere, through the Late Lat. heribergator, formed from the O.H.Ger. heri, mod. Ger. Heer, an army, and bergen, shelter or defence, cf. " harbour." The meaning was soon enlarged to include any place where travellers could be lodged or entertained, and also by transference the person who provided lodgings, and so one who goes on before a party to secure suitable lodgings in advance. A herald sent forward to announce the coming of a king. A Knight Harbinger was an officer in the royal household till 1846. In these senses the word is now obsolete. It is used chiefly in poetry and literature for one who announces the immediate approach of something, a forerunner. This is illustrated in the " harbinger of spring," a name given to a small plant belonging to the Umbelliferae, which has a tuberous root, and small white flowers; it is found in the central states of North America, and blossoms in March.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)