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  • Writer's picturePaul


Word origins are frequently utterly ludicrous. Avocados and orchids take their name from words for testicles. Girls were originally girls and boys. A dogsbody was originally a misshapen boiled pouch of seafarers’ meal. We could go on.

But as word origin stories go, one of the most peculiarly convoluted is that behind the word cabal, meaning “a group or sect of like-minded people,” often with the implication that those involved in the cabal are up to no good. It just so happens that those who were involved in the very first cabal we know about, however, gave the cabal itself its name.

The Cabal Ministry, as it was known, was essentially precisely that: an exclusive group of the five closest and most important members of King Charles II’s Parliament, who in 1670 signed a treaty secretly allying England and France in a potential war against the Netherlands.

Charles II: Loved a secret society. Hated haircuts. (Wikimedia Commons)

The five signatories of the clandestine treaty were Sir Thomas Clifford (known as “C”), Lord Arlington (“A”), the Duke of Buckingham (“B”), Lord Ashley (“A”), and Lord Lauderdale (“L”). And it’s from their names, and from their secret sect, that the word cabal ultimately derived.


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