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Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 

INCUNABULA

Saying "in-kyoo-NAB-yuh-luh" may sound like an incantation to you, but you are in fact referring to something in the earliest stages of its development. The word passes into English directly from Latin, where it means "swaddling-clothes," deriving from cunae, "cradle." Its figurative sense there is childhood.

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The word is most commonly used now in a technical sense, for the earliest printed books, especially books printed before 1500. Among them, a single volume is an incunabulum.

Example: H.L. Mencken uses the word jocularly in one of the notes printed in the expanded Days Trilogy recently published by the Library of America. In the 1880s he read many of the children's books published by the McLoughlin Brothers, of which he says: "One of the curious things I discover, thumbing through my shelf of McLoughlin incunabula, is that all of the books linger in memory only as fragments."

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