AskDefine | Define cabal

Dictionary Definition



1 a clique (often secret) that seeks power usually through intrigue [syn: faction, junto, camarilla]
2 a plot to carry out some harmful or illegal act (especially a political plot) [syn: conspiracy] v : engage in plotting or enter into a conspiracy, swear together; "They conspired to overthrow the government" [syn: conspire, complot, conjure, machinate] [also: caballing, caballed]

User Contributed Dictionary



From etyl fr cabale from cabala, which in turn is derived from the Hebrew Kabbalah QBLH קבלה "something received" (i.e., from tradition, from antiquity). It is likely that the mystical often secretive nature of Kabbalah led to formation of the word cabal.


  • /kəˈbæɫ/, /k@"b

Extensive Definition

A cabal is a number of people united in some close design, usually to promote their private views and interests in a church, state, or other community, often by intrigue. Cabals are sometimes secret societies composed of a few designing persons, and at other times are manifestations of emergent behavior in society or governance on the part of a community of persons who have well established public affiliation or kinship. The term can also be used to refer to the designs of such persons or to the practical consequences of their emergent behavior, and also holds a general meaning of intrigue and conspiracy. Its usage carries strong connotations of shadowy corners, back rooms and insidious influence; a cabal is more evil and selective than, say, a faction, which is simply selfish. Because of this negative connotation, few organizations use the term to refer to themselves or their internal subdivisions. Among the exceptions is Discordianism, in which the term is used to refer to an identifiable group within the Discordian tradition.

Origins of the word

The term cabal derives from Kabbalah (a word that has numerous spelling variations), the mystical interpretation of the Hebrew scripture, and originally meant either an occult doctrine or a secret. It was introduced into English in the publication of Cabala, a curious medley of letters and papers of the reigns of James and Charles I that appeared in 1654.

Association with Charles II

The term took on its present meaning from a group of ministers of King Charles II of England (Sir Thomas Clifford, Lord Arlington, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Ashley, and Lord Lauderdale), whose initial letters coincidentally spelled CABAL, and who were the signers of the public Treaty of Dover that allied England to France in a prospective war against the Dutch. It must be said, however, that the so-called Cabal Ministry can hardly be seen as such — the Scot Lauderdale was not much involved in English governance at all; while the Catholic ministers of the Cabal, Clifford and Arlington, were never much in sympathy with the Protestants, Buckingham and Ashley, nor did Buckingham and Ashley get on very well with each other. Thus, the "Cabal Ministry," never very unified in its members' aims and sympathies, fell apart by 1672; Lord Ashley, who became Earl of Shaftesbury, later became one of Charles II's fiercest opponents. The explanation that the word originated as an acronym from the names of the group of ministers is a folk etymology, although the coincidence was noted at the time and could possibly have popularized its use. The group, who came to prominence after the fall of Charles's first prime minister, Lord Clarendon, in 1667, was rather called the Cabal because of its secretiveness and lack of responsibility to the "Country party" then out of power.

Use in relation to Computers and Usenet

During the rise of Usenet, the term was used as a semi-ironic description of the efforts of people to maintain some order over the chaotic, anarchic Usenet community; see backbone cabal. As in this specific case, references to an alleged cabal often fall within the realm of conspiracy theory
Other negative words that arose from descriptions of religious extremism or religious sects include:
cabal in German: Kabale (Begriff)
cabal in Esperanto: Intrigo
cabal in French: Cabale
cabal in Lithuanian: Intriga
cabal in Portuguese: Camarilha
cabal in Russian: Интрига
cabal in Simple English: Cabal

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Anschluss, addition, affiliation, age group, agglomeration, aggregation, agreement, alliance, amalgamation, artifice, assimilation, association, band, battalion, bevy, blend, blending, body, brigade, bunch, cadre, camarilla, cartel, cast, caucus, cell, centralization, charmed circle, circle, clan, clique, closed circle, club, coalescence, coalition, cohort, collusion, combination, combine, combo, company, complement, complicity, complot, composition, confederacy, confederation, congeries, conglomeration, conjugation, conjunction, connivance, connive, consolidation, conspiracy, conspire, contingent, contrivance, contriving, corps, coterie, counterplot, covey, covin, crew, crowd, deep-laid plot, detachment, detail, division, ecumenism, elite, elite group, embodiment, encompassment, engineering, enosis, faction, federalization, federation, finagling, finesse, fleet, frame-up, fusion, game, gang, group, grouping, groupment, hookup, in-group, inclusion, incorporation, ingroup, inner circle, integration, intrigue, junction, junta, junto, league, little game, machinate, machination, maneuvering, manipulation, marriage, meld, melding, merger, mob, movement, out-group, outfit, pack, package, package deal, party, peer group, phalanx, platoon, plot, plotting, posse, regiment, rigging, ring, salon, scheme, schemery, scheming, set, solidification, squad, stable, stratagem, string, syncretism, syndication, syneresis, synthesis, team, tie-up, tribe, trick, troop, troupe, underplot, unification, union, unit, we-group, web of intrigue, wedding, wing, wire-pulling
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