I was taken aback while reading ”Bringing Mecca to the British Museum,” by the excellent writer Malise Ruthven, to see a sentence beginning “It includes the ritual circumambulation of the Ka‘ba, the cubular building that stands at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca...” Cubular? Surely some sort of mistake, though not a simple typo. It’s not in either the OED or Webster’s Third. But when I plug it into Google Books, I get this, from p. 394 of the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office for Dec. 8, 1903:
There are a number of hits for it over the years (1930, 1948, etc.); I especially liked this sentence from Jack Kerouac’s novel Doctor Sax: Faust Part Three, written in 1952 and first published in 1959, though Google Books dates it from 1987: “It hung in great black velvet folds in the cubular shadows of the high wall yard.”
What I’m wondering is whether it’s a rare but existing word that bubbles into print only every once in a great while, or an occasional mistake (or invention) by people who can’t come up with the word “cubic” when they need it (or dislike the word)?