Deeper Into Jeopardy! XXIII: It’s a Bird – $800

Jeopardy! category: IT’S A BIRD (14-07-2014)

$400 clue: It’s a number like 2 or 7, as opposed to 2nd or 7th

Correct response

The gist: Which came first: the numbers, the birds, or the priests?The word “cardinal” comes ultimately from a Latin word of obscure origin, “cardo,” originally meaning “door hinge.” From there, its meaning expanded to anything upon which something “swings” in the metaphorical sense – something that’s depended on, like how we say a proposition “hinges” on some assumption being true. It also meant the pole directions in navigation, since the world “hinges” (one might say “turns”) around them. So in fact, it wasn’t the numbers, birds, or priests that came first – it was the cardinal directions, coming from a lowly door hinge. The numbers are so named because they’re the basic, “principle” numbers, while the ordinal numbers (the clue’s “2nd” and “7th”) depend on them.

But from there, there’s evidence of high-ranking Church officials being called “cardinals,” due to their high positions and their being so essential to the running of the Catholic Church (and later, the Church of England, which also has cardinals). Cardinals are usually, though not always, also bishops, and therefore usually have a diocese to take care of – but their main responsibility, as cardinals, is to elect a new Pope when the current dies or, in rare but recent cases, abdicates, a period known as the sede vacante.*

As for the birds, the first documented use of “cardinal” to describe a red-plumed North American songbird comes from the 1670s. Their name comes from the similarity in appearance of the birds and the priests, who traditionally wear red robes and mitres, that resemble the plumage and particularly the crest feathers of the birds, especially the Northern cardinal species. Species in the family Cardinalidae can be found all over North and South America.

Male Northern cardinal with prominent crest feathers. Squint a little and they kind of look like a mitre.

The clue: Once again, nothing special here. I know that some people get mixed up about which are the ordinal and which are the cardinal numbers – not a problem for this clue since only one of those is a bird.

In Jeopardy!: As we’ve seen already, “cardinal” can describe a whole bunch of things, so most of the 237 clues a search for it returns aren’t about the bird. So to make this more manageable we’ll just do clues that mention both “cardinal” and “bird,” which returns only 32. The first thing to note is that the cardinal is the official bird of a a full seven American states, beating out the next-highest (the Western Meadowlark) by one state and third-place mockingbird by two. In fact, cardinal was the correct response four of the five clues in February 21, 2007’s “State Birds” category – the writers must have been feeling cheeky. The bird’s notable colouring is a part of 17 clues, but its notable crest only gets three (to be fair, not all species have them). The two major sports teams named for the birds also show up a few times each, with the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball getting and the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League each getting three clues – remember that the St. Louis Cardinals have won the second-most World Series championships with eleven under their belts, behind only the New York Yankees’ dominant 27. And, of course, the religious angle of the bird’s name gets references here and there in many different ways. Remember that they’re red and you’ll be fine for most clues about them – remember that they’re common state birds and you’ll be fine for more. Just remember that the Rhode Island Red, that state’s official bird, is just a breed of domestic chicken.

* Technically sede vacante refers to the seat of any episcopal see, or a bishop’s seat, but it is most often used to refer to the vacancy of the Holy See, i.e. the Pope’s.

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