• conclave •
Pronunciation: kahn-klayv • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A confidential meeting of members of a family or other close-knit organization. 2. The chambers in which cardinals of the Catholic Church meet to elect a new Pope, the cardinals participating in such a meeting, or the meeting itself.
Notes: Today's topical Good Word has a funny adjective, conclavical, that sounds more like a bone than a chamber where a Pope is elected. A participant in a conclave is known as a conclavist.
In Play: The conclave that is in the news in 2013 is the conclave that just elected a new pope, Pope Francis. The outgoing pope, Pope Benedict XVI, was the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. The current conclave of Roman Catholic bishops is a far cry from the conclaves of the Mafia families that Mario Puzo describes in his novel, The Godfather, though these two applications of the word amply demonstrate its flexibility and breadth. Today's Good Word is not limited to powerful families: "Mom has to call a family conclave to decide what to have for dinner."
Word History: Today's Good Word, appropriately enough, comes to us from Italy. Italian inherited their word conclave unchanged from Latin conclave "a room, chambers, a suite". This word most probably originated as "locked room", for it is made up of com- "(together) with" + clavis "a key". Clavis seems related to clavus "nail", perhaps because the original key was a bent nail. Russian klyuch "key", from the same source, shows weak evidence that the meaning of its word for "key" passed through that of "nail". Russian contains a word klin "wedge, wooden peg" that shares the initial consonant cluster with klyuch. (Today we needn't hold a conclave to conclude that Ollie Louia deserves a word of appreciation for suggesting today's very topical Good Word.)