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Borrowed from Latin pābulum (food, nourishment; fodder or pasture for animals; nourishment for the mind, food for thought), from pā(scō) (to nourish) +‎ -bulum (suffix denoting an instrument), or directly from Proto-Indo-European *peh₂-dʰlom (*peh₂- (to protect, shepherd) + *-dʰlom, variant of *-trom (suffix denoting a tool or instrument)).



pabulum (countable and uncountable, plural pabula or pabulums)

  1. Food or fodder, particularly that taken in by plants or animals.
    Coordinate term: pap
    • 1803 September 1, C. Baldwin, “On Oil used as a Manure. By C. Baldwin, Esq. From Hunter’s Georgical Essays.”, in The Repertory of Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture. Consisting of Original Communications, Specifications of Patent Inventions, Practical and Interesting Papers, Selected from the Philosophical Transactions and Scientific Journals of All Nations. Monthly Intelligence Relating to the Useful Arts, Proceedings of Learned Societies, and Notices of All Patents Granted for Inventions, volume III, number XVI (Second Series), London: Printed for J. Wyatt, Repertory-Office, Hatton-Garden, →OCLC, page 277:
      Having for many years considered oil as the great pabulum of plants, I was much hurt by the result of some experiments, which state oil as poison; and turning this in my thoughts a thousand times over, it at last occurred to me, that though oil, as oil in its crude state, might act as a poison, yet it might be so changed as to convey it with great advantage to the soil, []
    • 1880, C. S. Beck, “Cell Life”, in Transactions of the Pennsylvania State Dental Society, Lancaster, Pa.: Pearsol & Geist, printers, 22 South Queen-St, →OCLC, page 109:
      Germinal matter, as far as is known, is structureless soft, transparent, colorless. It can be studied in the fungi and in the lowest form of animals in the amœba, and in mucus, pus and the white-blood corpuscles of the higher animals. Its properties, as we have seen, are living, growing, active, and it moves through some natural power of its own. It has power to produce itself out of the food or pabulum, and muliplying by division, or dropping off of portions of its body.
  2. Material that feeds a fire.
    Synonym: fuel
    • 1727, Tobias Swinden, “The Improbability of Hell Fire’s Being in, or about the Center of the Earth”, in An Enquiry into the Nature and Place of Hell. [...] With a Supplement, wherein the Notions of A[rch]b[isho]p [John] Tillotson, Dr. Lupton, and Others, as to the Eternity of Hell Torments, are Impartially Represented. And the Rev. Mr. Wall’s Sentiments of this Learned Work, 2nd edition, London: Printed by H. P. for Tho[mas] Astley, at the Dolphin and Crown in St. Paul's Church-Yard, →OCLC, pages 98–99:
      [] But when we find that they [volcanoes] are but few in Number, and the chiefeſt of thoſe too near the torrid Zone, and from their Tops to iſſue forth, now clear Fire, then thick, black Smoke, and ſometimes little or nothing at all; we muſt conclude, that they are only particular Fires, probably of the Sun’s kindling at firſt, and ſince continued by the caſual and incidental Applications of that Pabulum, which thoſe Part of the Earth adminiſter to them.
    • 1785, Felix O'Gallagher, “Lecture VIII. The Nature of the Sun and its Pabulum Investigated.”, in An Essay on the Investigation of the First Principles of Nature: Together with the Application thereof to Solve the Phænomena of the Physical System. [...], part II, Dublin: Printed by John Chambers, No. 5, Abbey-Street, →OCLC, section I (Necessity of Fuel for the Sun: Qualities thereof: Comets Not Adequate, nor Destined for that Purpose), page 2:
      [W]e know from experience, that the light of a candle, lamp, or fire depends on, and emanates from the flame of each; and we alſo knw that this flame is nouriſhed and ſuſtained by a pabulum or fuel, which is conſumed or waſted, according to the quantity of light that iſſues from the flame; and that, when this food or fuel is exhauſted, the flame expires and yields no more light.
  3. (figuratively) Food for thought.
    • 1835, Charles Lamb, “Recollections of Christ’s Hospital”, in Essays of Elia, to which are Added Letters, and Rosamund, a Tale, Paris: Baudry's European Library, Rue du Coq, near the Louvre. [...], →OCLC, page 302:
      To comfort the desponding parent with the thought that, without diminishing the stock which is imperiously demanded to furnish the more pressing and homely wants of our nature, he has disposed of one or more perhap out of a numerous offspring, under the shelter of a care scarce less tender than the paternal, where not only their bodily cravings shall be supplied, but that mental pabulum is also dispensed, which He hath declared to be no less necessary to our sustenance, who said, that "not by bread alone man can live;" for this Christ's Hospital unfolds her bounty.
    • 1905, Ford Hermann Hueffer, chapter 1, in The Soul of London: A Survey of a Modern City, London: Routledge, →OCLC, pages 16–19; republished in Rick Allen, The Moving Pageant: A Literary Sourcebook on London Street-life, 1700–1914, London, New York, N.Y., 1998, →ISBN, part IV (“In Darkest England and Some Ways out”), pages 214–215:
      And with the eye of a bird seeking for minute fragmnts of seed, minute insects, tiny parasites, we also look for things that to us are the constituents of our mental or visual pabula.
  4. (figuratively) Bland intellectual fare; an undemanding diet of words.
    Synonyms: pablum, pap
    • 1907 August, Robert W[illiam] Chambers, “Silverside”, in The Younger Set, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, →OCLC, page 300:
      At her invitation he outlined for her the succeeding chapters with terse military accuracy ; and what she liked best and best understood was avoidance of that false modesty which condescends, turning technicality into pabulum.
    • 1998, Will Self, “A Story for Europe”, in Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, →ISBN, page 51:
      But the rescheduling of the directors' meeting for 7.30 a.m., and the trotting-out of such tawdry pabulums?
    • 2017 March 1, Anthony Zurcher, “Trump addresses Congress: A kinder, gentler president”, in BBC News[1], archived from the original on 5 June 2017:
      As this was largely a traditionally crafted speech, there were some painful cliches and political pabulum to which a typical politician might be prone, of course.

Derived terms[edit]


Further reading[edit]



From pā(scō) (I nourish) +‎ -bulum, or directly from Proto-Indo-European *peh₂-dʰlom (*peh₂- + *-dʰlom).



pābulum n (genitive pābulī); second declension

  1. food, nourishment, sustenance
    Synonyms: vīctus, nūtrīmentum, alimentum
    • 70 BCE – 19 BCE, Virgil, Georgicon 4.265:
      [] ultro / hortantem et fessas ad pabula nota vocantem
      [] freely / calling them and exhorting the weary insects to eat their familiar food.
  2. (of animals) fodder, pasture
  3. (figuratively) nourishment for the mind, food for thought


Second-declension noun (neuter).

Case Singular Plural
Nominative pābulum pābula
Genitive pābulī pābulōrum
Dative pābulō pābulīs
Accusative pābulum pābula
Ablative pābulō pābulīs
Vocative pābulum pābula


Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


  • Catalan: pàbul
  • English: pablum, pabulum
  • Galician: poula
  • Italian: pabbio
  • Portuguese: pábulo
  • Romanian: plaur
  • Spanish: pábulo


  • pabulum”, in Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short (1879) A Latin Dictionary, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • pabulum”, in Charlton T. Lewis (1891) An Elementary Latin Dictionary, New York: Harper & Brothers
  • pabulum in Charles du Fresne du Cange’s Glossarium Mediæ et Infimæ Latinitatis (augmented edition with additions by D. P. Carpenterius, Adelungius and others, edited by Léopold Favre, 1883–1887)
  • pabulum in Gaffiot, Félix (1934) Dictionnaire illustré latin-français, Hachette