Etymology of the Papacy

As you may or must have heard by now, Pope Benedict XVI has stepped down from office before his term was up. Or, to be more ambiguous, before his term was laid to rest alongside his cousin(?) (I’m not Catholic, so I don’t know the family structure between the Pope and ol’ JC.)

In light of this news, I thought it’d be beneficial to know the proper wordage for handling a world with multiple Popes.

A group of popes is known as a popery, similar to a nunnery or a nursery. If you’re talking about separate groups of popes, then you are speaking of disparate poperies.

When referring to a pope when there are other living single vessels of God hanging around the house, it’s best to refer to them by their papal name. However, sometimes casually you’ll just mention ‘the pope’ and unfortunately forcing a conversation regarding which one. For quick reference, until time sorts out the problem, here is your two-pope solution: Refer to the yet-to-be-named pope as ‘the new pope’ while former pope Benedict XVI can be referred to as the shadow pope or the sleepy pope. Once again, one simple snarky adjective can make a world of difference!

The history of the term popery is a fascinating one. Because as I’m sure has been mentioned, a pope hasn’t stepped down from his high chair since 1415. The world has changed a great deal in those nigh-on six centuries. Back in the early 15th Century, when dealing with the last papal resignation, the people of the time were still hesitant to bathe properly. So while there was a popery in Rome, each pope would don different perfumes to distinguish themselves. It is surprising how easy it is to mix up guys wearing pointy white hats (just ask the KKK!)

These different scents were very particular and known across Europe, even as far as the British Isles. England, home of my native tongue, was still heavily influenced by the Norman French ruling class at that time. And this is why to this day we have a French word and spelling for a bouquet of scents: potpourri.