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of prime importance; chief; principal:
of cardinal significance.
of the color cardinal.
Roman Catholic Church. a high ecclesiastic appointed by the pope to the College of Cardinals and ranking above every other ecclesiastic but the pope.
Also called cardinal grosbeak. a crested grosbeak, Cardinalis cardinalis, of North America, the male of which is bright red.
any of various similar birds.
a deep, rich red color.
a woman’s short cloak with a hood, originally made of scarlet cloth and popularly worn in the 18th century.
cardinal number.
Contemporary Examples

One perspective that seems to have been ignored is what I regard as the cardinal role of the Revolutionary Guards.
The Thugs Who Lead Iran’s Supreme Leader Gary Sick June 26, 2009

cardinal Law is very much the poster priest for the sex abuse scandal that is rocking the Roman Catholic Church right now.
The Cardinal Who Got Away Barbie Latza Nadeau May 10, 2010

Over a billion Catholics rejoiced at the announcement that cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would be Pope Francis.
What Catholics Think of Pope Francis Ilana Glazer March 14, 2013

The new administration just broke three cardinal rules of leadership.
How Not to Succeed in Business Jack And Suzy Welch February 17, 2009

The cardinal rule of crisis management amounts to first, do no harm.
What’s Next for Weiner? Jill Lawrence June 16, 2011

Historical Examples

Her cousin and adviser, cardinal Pole, died within three days of her.
A History of England Charles Oman

I pity you,’ said the cardinal, ‘for not having even one man-servant.’
Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, No. 462 Various

This demand was unfavourably received by cardinal de Brienne.
Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men Francois Arago

It will do no more for you on a dying bed than it did for cardinal Wolsey.
The Story of My Life Egerton Ryerson

The iron hand of the cardinal still pressed upon his victim.
The Life of Marie de Medicis, Vol. 3 (of 3) Julia Pardoe

(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
Also called cardinal red. a deep vivid red colour
See cardinal number
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
a fritillary butterfly, Pandoriana pandora, found in meadows of southern Europe
a woman’s hooded shoulder cape worn in the 17th and 18th centuries
(usually prenominal) fundamentally important; principal: cardinal sin
of a deep vivid red colour
(astrology) of or relating to the signs Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn Compare mutable (sense 2), fixed (sense 10)

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.

“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.


Read Also:

  • Cardinal direction

    noun one of the four principal compass points north, south, east, and west; also called cardinal point

  • Cardinalfish

    any of the perchlike fishes of the family Apogonidae, many species of which are bright red with black markings.

  • Cardinal-flower

    a North American plant, Lobelia cardinalis, with showy red tubular flowers in an elongated cluster. Historical Examples Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal-flower), apparently common, but out of bloom August, 1857. The Maine Woods Henry David Thoreau But when vivid color is wanted, what can surpass or equal our cardinal-flower? Riverby John Burroughs It was a likely place […]

  • Cardinal-grosbeak

    cardinal (def 4).

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