• cabal •
Pronunciation: kê-bahl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A conspiratorial political clique of plotters, a faction of persons engaged in surreptitious intrigue. 2. The plot of such a faction.
Notes: Cabals are always up to no good in the opinion of those who use it. If the group is not such, they form merely a "faction" or "group". A member of a cabal is a cabalist who practices cabalism. Such a person may also be called a caballer; just remember to double the L.
In Play: Here is another word that has become quite topical in today's politics: "The attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 seems to have been planned by a cabal of white supremacists." We do meet a variety of situations in normal life that earn the use of this word: "Lemuel felt that he had been denied the promotion as a result of the intrigues of a cabal of his enemies within his department."
Word History: English, as usual, took its word whole from French cabal "a small intriguing group meeting privately". French had reduced this word from Cabbala or Kabbalah, which originally meant "mystical interpretation of the Old Testament" or "mystical secret society". It was popularized in English 1673 as an acronym for five intriguing ministers of Charles II which gave the word its sinister connotations. In Medieval Latin we find cabala, from Hebrew qabbala "received doctrine, tradition", from qibbel "to receive", a derivative of Semitic qbl "to receive". Other derivations include Kabyle, a Berber dialect, from Berber qabila "tribe" and Arabic qibla, the direction toward which Muslims face when praying. It is akin to Arabic qabila "to receive" and qabala "to face". (Cabal comes to us in a series of very topical words recommended by our old friend and master of suggestions, Rob Towart.)