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cardinal

[kahr-dn-l]
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adjective
  1. of prime importance; chief; principal: of cardinal significance.
  2. of the color cardinal.
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noun
  1. Roman Catholic Church. a high ecclesiastic appointed by the pope to the College of Cardinals and ranking above every other ecclesiastic but the pope.
  2. Also called cardinal grosbeak. a crested grosbeak, Cardinalis cardinalis, of North America, the male of which is bright red.
  3. any of various similar birds.
  4. a deep, rich red color.
  5. a woman's short cloak with a hood, originally made of scarlet cloth and popularly worn in the 18th century.
  6. cardinal number.
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Origin of cardinal

before 1150; Middle English, Old English < Latin cardinālis, equivalent to cardin- (stem of cardō) hinge, hence, something on which other things hinge + -ālis -al1
Related formscar·di·nal·ly, adverbcar·di·nal·ship, nounin·ter·car·di·nal, adjectivepost·car·di·nal, adjectivesub·car·di·nal, adjectivesub·car·di·nal·ly, adverbun·car·di·nal·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for cardinal

overriding, prime, central, leading, primary, first, chief, ruling, fundamental, basic, main, essential, principal, basal, foremost, highest, indispensable, paramount, pivotal, preeminent

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Contemporary Examples of cardinal

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British Dictionary definitions for cardinal

cardinal

noun
  1. RC Church any of the members of the Sacred College, ranking next after the pope, who elect the pope and act as his chief counsellors
  2. Also called: cardinal red a deep vivid red colour
  3. See cardinal number
  4. Also called: cardinal grosbeak, (US) redbird a crested North American bunting, Richmondena (or Pyrrhuloxia) cardinalis, the male of which has a bright red plumage and the female a brown one
  5. a fritillary butterfly, Pandoriana pandora, found in meadows of southern Europe
  6. a woman's hooded shoulder cape worn in the 17th and 18th centuries
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adjective
  1. (usually prenominal) fundamentally important; principalcardinal sin
  2. of a deep vivid red colour
  3. astrology of or relating to the signs Aries, Cancer, Libra, and CapricornCompare mutable (def. 2), fixed (def. 10)
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Derived Formscardinally, adverb

Word Origin for cardinal

C13: from Latin cardinālis, literally: relating to a hinge, hence, that on which something depends, principal, from cardō hinge
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cardinal

n.

early 12c., "one of the ecclesiastical princes who constitute the sacred college" (short for cardinalis ecclesiae Romanae or episcopus cardinalis), from Latin cardinalis "principal, chief, essential" (see cardinal (adj.)).

Ecclesiastical use began for the presbyters of the chief (cardinal) churches of Rome. The North American songbird (Cardinalis virginianus) is attested from 1670s, so named for its resemblance to the cardinals in their red robes.

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adj.

"chief, pivotal," early 14c., from Latin cardinalis "principal, chief, essential," from cardo (genitive cardinis) "that on which something turns or depends; pole of the sky," originally "door hinge," of unknown origin. Related: Cardinally.

The cardinal points (1540s) are north, south, east, west. The cardinal sins (c.1600) are too well known to require rehearsal. The cardinal virtues (c.1300) were divided into natural (justice prudence, temperance, fortitude) and theological (faith, hope, charity). The natural ones were the original classical ones, which were amended by Christians. But typically in Middle English only the first four were counted as the cardinal virtues:

Of þe uour uirtues cardinales spekeþ moche þe yealde philosofes. ["Ayenbite of Inwyt," c.1340]

By analogy of this, and cardinal points, cardinal winds, cardinal signs (four zodiacal signs marking the equinoxes and the solstices), the adjective in Middle English acquired an association with the number four.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper