Definition of incunabulum in US English:



  • An early printed book, especially one printed before 1501.

    • ‘Books printed before 1501 are called incunabula; the word is derived from Latin for swaddling clothes and used to indicate that these books are the work of a technology still in its infancy.’
    • ‘A preliminary exhibition of one hundred incunabula from the collection was held before World War II, in 1937, and another after it in 1957, as well as a preliminary exhibition of masterpieces from it in 1954.’
    • ‘The metaphorical designation incunabulum means that it concerns printing elements, one sees which lying still in its cradle or in the diapers.’
    • ‘An incunabulum represents the first step away from the entirely hand-written book to the printed work, one that is often still experimental as far as technical aspects of printing and typography are concerned.’
    • ‘A pair of small drawings by Burne-Jones in a sketchbook from about this time depicts similar vessels nestled in stylized seas, surrounded by frames such as those used in illustrated incunabula.’


Early 19th century: from Latin incunabula (neuter plural) ‘swaddling clothes, cradle’, from in- ‘into’ + cunae ‘cradle’.