Originally, the word cabal was pronounced with a stress on the first syllable (kind of like Kabul), and it meant "small private gathering" without any negative connotations. The term got popularized with the new pronunciation and a more sinister definition in England during the early 1670s, when King Charles II's ministry was composed of politicians called Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale. Together, they were called the "Cabal ministry" and they were seen as a dangerous and powerful organized group, hence the association. Going back, cabal comes from French, where it could either mean "gathering" or refer to the mystical Jewish interpretation of the Bible we know know as Kabbalah. Since it was a small group with esoteric practices, the definition broadened to mean any small group, and then narrowed again. Finally, through Latin cabbala, the word traces to Hebrew kabala, literally meaning "something received".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.