A harbinger is a forerunner or announcer, generally with an inferred negative association as in the harbinger of bad news. This usage dates from the mid-1500s, but the origin is even older from at least The Middle Ages. In those days, a harbinger was usually an officer, sent ahead of armies to negotiate lodgings. This is where the word’s negative associations came from, because armies in those days were very bad news indeed for the local populace because of wanton looting and lawless behaviour. The etymology of the word is Old French herbergier, which means to provide lodgings.