• caucus •
kaw-kês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A closed political meeting that determines policy or selects candidates for office. 2. (Britain) A committee within a political party that determines party policies.
Notes: In the Word History below we will suggest that today's word might come from Latin. However, the lack of any derivations with meanings like "member of a caucus", "having caucuses", or "like a caucus" weighs against a Latin origin. Today's word may be used as a verb "as is", though: "The party caucused for two days and decided to disband." The plural is, just as you would expect, caucuses.
In Play: A caucus is a meeting closed to all but members of a political party: "After a day-long caucus members of the party returned with a recommendation that they receive a pay raise." It may include the entire party or only a select few: "The heterosexually married, protestant, pro-abortion, anti-amnesty, health care reform, free nursery school caucus agreed on everything, but is not releasing its position to the public."
Word History: Today's Good old American Word comes from the Caucus Club of Boston in the 1760s, a political alliance of Boston tradesmen (including John Adams, Sam's cousin) that decided who would receive appointments to town offices. No one knows where the club got its name. The obvious source is Latin, but caucus in Latin means "drinking vessel". J. H. Trumbull suggested in 1872 that it comes from an Algonquin word caucauasu "advisor", which Captain John Smith of Virginia listed in his glossary as Caw-cawaassough "one who advises, urges, encourages", from a verb meaning "talk to, give counsel". Indian names were commonly taken by clubs and secret associations in New England at that time, but no direct evidence exists to support the speculation that this was one of them. (We don't need to caucus to agree that Gail Granum deserves our appreciation for suggesting today's Good Word.)