[in-kyoo-nab-yuh-luh, ing-]

plural noun, singular in·cu·nab·u·lum [in-kyoo-nab-yuh-luh m, ing-] /ˌɪn kyʊˈnæb yə ləm, ˌɪŋ-/.

extant copies of books produced in the earliest stages (before 1501) of printing from movable type.
the earliest stages or first traces of anything.

Origin of incunabula

1815–25; < Latin: straps holding a baby in a cradle, earliest home, birthplace, probably equivalent to *incūnā(re) to place in a cradle (in- in-2 + *-cūnāre, verbal derivative of cūnae cradle) + -bula, plural of -bulum suffix of instrument; def. 1 as translation of German Wiegendrucke
Related formsin·cu·nab·u·lar, adjectivepost·in·cu·nab·u·la, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for incunabula

Historical Examples of incunabula

  • The present number of volumes is about 115,000, of which over 2500 are incunabula.

  • But it is the books printed before 1474 that form the real Italian incunabula.

    Fine Books

    Alfred W. Pollard

  • Will you first show Miss Thayer the illuminations and the rarest of the incunabula?

    The Spell

    William Dana Orcutt

  • It hardly needs be told why so few of the incunabula of the Philippines have survived.

  • Three of them appeared before the end of the fifteenth century, which places them among the incunabula of printing.

British Dictionary definitions for incunabula


pl n singular -lum (-ləm)

any book printed before 1501
the infancy or earliest stages of something; beginnings
Derived Formsincunabular, adjective

Word Origin for incunabula

C19: from Latin, originally: swaddling clothes, hence beginnings, from in- ² + cūnābula cradle
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for incunabula

"swaddling clothes," also, figuratively, "childhood, beginnings;" 1824, from Latin incunabula (neuter plural), ultimately from cunae "cradle," from PIE *koi-na-, from root *kei- "to lie; bed, couch."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper