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Memory key for cardinals, ordinals and nominals

[10 Mar 2013] Now that a conclave consisting wholly of holy men is to choose a new Pope, there’s the usual pun-fest about carnal cardinals and cardinals making up the numbers. Sadly, Cardinal Sin of the Philippines is no longer with us, having been called to eternal peace in 1976. ‘Welcome to the house of Sin,’ he would greet visitors to his home. 

So today’s little sermon is about what cardinal, ordinal and nominal numbers are, specially prepared for people like me who can never remember the difference.

To help, we need three mnemonics (memory aids – wake up at the back).

Mnemonic 1 is ‘c’ for counting and cardinal, so a cardinal number is for counting things, eg 15 chalices, 13 chapels, and 11 chasubles.

Mnemonic 2 is ‘o’ for order and ordinal, so an ordinal number tells the order of things in a set, so first vote, second vote, and third vote, and then ‘Habemus Papam!’ and a puff of white smoke. (Cease that sniggering about puffs in the Vatican, please, we like a bit of diversity.)

Mnemonic 3 is ‘n’ for name, so it’s used for nominal numbers. These identify things by number, like phone numbers or shirt number 1 that the goalkeeping Pope, John Paul II, would have worn in his youth.

You get 10 out of 10 if you knew all this already, and there’s a bonus point if you knew the origin of ‘conclave’. It means ‘with a key’, as in ‘having a meeting under lock and key’. Here endeth the lesson. [MC]

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