Claim: The word ‘cabal’ is an acronym formed from the names of five ministers to
Origins: During the reign of Charles II, who ruled in Great Britain and Ireland during the Restoration period
When some of the policies of these ministers proved unpopular (particularly their signing of the 1672 Treaty of Alliance with France, a Catholic nation, for war against Holland, a Protestant nation), this Ministry was dubbed a cabal, with the negative connotations the word now carries: a junto or council of intriguers united to bring about an overturn or usurpation, particularly in public affairs. Sometime later the belief arose that cabal was not merely an existing word
which had been applied to a group Charles’ ministers, but that the word itself was actually derived from the initial letters of these five men’s names: Clifford,
Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale.
The acronymic origin was merely a fanciful explanation cooked up long after the fact, however. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, cabal was first applied to this particular group of five ministers in a 1673 pamphlet entitled “England’s Appeal from the private Cabal at White-hall to the Great Council of the
The governing cabal are Buckingham, Lauderdale, Ashly, Orery, and Trevor. Not but the other cabal [Arlington, Clifford, and their party] too have seemingly sometimes their turn.
Last updated: 21 August 2010
Rawson, Hugh. Devious Derivations. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1994. ISBN 0-517-88128-4 (p. 36). Room, Adrian. The Fascinating Origins of Everyday Words. Chicago, NTC Publishing, 1986. ISBN 0-8442-0910-4 (p. 33). The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-861258-3.