Where did the word “cabal” originate and What does cabal mean?

There has long been a popular notion that the word “cabal” was formed from the initials of the name of five of the members of the English ministry who were particularly given to intrigue during the reign of Charles II, especially during the period from 1667 to 1673.

There were indeed five such men, and because of them the word cabal did acquire additional prominence.

Their names were Clifford, Ashley, Buckingham, Arlington, and Lauderdale. But the word did not arise from their initials; it had been in the language before their time.

These five men were not the only ministers who met for secret intrigues, in fact, and they were not likely to meet often with such a purpose. Two of them usually met with one cabal or set of connivers and the other three with another.

These five, nevertheless, were those who signed the infamous and secret Treaty of Alliance with France in 1672, without sanction of Parliament, and thereby plunged the nation into war with Holland in defiance of existing treaties.

Cabal actually comes, however, from cabbala, sometimes written cabala. This was the name used by the Jews for their traditional and occult interpretation of the Old Testament.

Thus the word came to apply to anything that was hidden or secret. In English use it became contracted to cabal and came to mean a secret or conspiratorial intrigue.