Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahn-klayv Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A secret meeting, especially to elect a new Pope. 2. A meeting of a family. 3. The rooms in which the cardinals meet to elect a new Pope or the meeting to elect a new pope itself.

Notes: The adjective for this word is conclavical as in a conclavical meeting of the family elders. The agentive noun, conclavist, is generally reserved for the cardinals who participate in a papal conclave; however, there is no grammatical reason to confine its application to that select group.

In Play: The last Roman Catholic conclave elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany the 265th pope, Pope Benedict XVI. That 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. But 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: This Good Word came to us from Latin conclave "lockable room", comprising con- "with" + clavis "key". The Proto-Indo-European root for key was *(s)kleu-, with a Fickle S that did not appear in Latin clavis or Greek kleis "hook, bold, bar". It also does not appear in Slavic languages, like Russian, with its kljuch "key". However, it is visible in the Germanic languages, where we find Modern German Schloss "fortress, castle" and Schlüssel "key".

Dr. Goodword,

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