Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Daily Hump: Pablum

Before I saw this clip of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at the Emmys, I have to admit I never heard the word pablum before.

Per the OED, pablum refers to "insipid or undemanding intellectual fare." The etymology of the word is rather hazy. Both the OED and Wikipedia mention a wheat-based children's cereal, Pablum, invented in 1930, that was known for being soft and easily digestible. Wikipedia states that the lower-cased pablum predates the brand name. On the other hand, the OED traces pablum back to pabulum, which has as one of its defitinions "Bland intellectual fare, pap; a sample of this; an insipid or undemanding diet of words, entertainment, etc." However, the OED continues that this pejorative use of pabulum is linked to confusion with Pablum (the brand). Thus, if we are to believe the OED, there's a very circuitous etymological evolution at play: pabulum came first (sans negative definition), followed by Pablum (the brand), which resulted in the pejorative pablum, which then negatively enhanced the definition of pabulum. Get it?

Pubulum is from classical Latin pābulum food, fodder, fuel for fire, food for thought (-, stem of pāscere to feed + -bulum, instrumental suffix). The word pascent also comes from this root and means feeding or grazing. "The pascent creature finds a bed which at once supplies food and protection" [OED].

Also, you may be interested to know that in Canada pablum is still used as a generic name for soft baby cereal.

pablum [OED]
pabulum [OED]
Pablum [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 8:17 AM


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