Sunday, November 21, 2010


Check it. According to the collections page of the Wagenhein Room, at the San Diego Public Library: "Books printed from 1456 up to and including 1500 are called incunabula, the Latin word meaning cradle because they were printed during the infancy of printing."

That's cool right. I hadn't heard that before, and I love word origins baby. I'm a etymology geek from way back. So I checked my favorite etymology site, the Online Etymology Dictionary, and I find this:

incunabula - “swaddling clothes,” also, figuratively, “childhood;” 1824, from L. incunabula (neut. pl.), ultimately from cunae “cradle.”

incunabulum - 1861, singular of incunabula; taken up (originally in German) as a word for any book printed late 15c., in the “infancy” of the printer’s art.

Nice. According to, the origin is as follows: "1815–25; < L: straps holding a baby in a cradle, earliest home, birthplace, prob. equiv. to *incūnā ( re ) to place in a cradle ( in- + *-cūnāre, v. deriv. of cūnae cradle) + -bula, pl. of -bulum suffix of instrument; def. 1 as trans. of G Wiegendrucke I don't know who G Wiegendrucke is, but I assume its a person, of the German persuasion, who did the translation.

I stole the pic by the way. [What? It goes with the quote.] This particular incunabulum is an Augsburg edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle (or Liber Chronicarum) from 1497, and goes on to note that the printers used 645 different wood blocks to produce the 1,809 illustrations.

But... according to University of Maryland Library's Rare Books Collection, the Augsburg edition was a later, less expensive and unauthorized copy of the original due to its popularity. (Click on this link, yo. Some nice pics and info on this book.)

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