confabulation, confab, fable

Confabulation is a word with two meanings. It can mean simply a conversation, formed from the Latin con (together) + fabulor (to speak, talk). This sense appears in the mid fifteenth century. By the early seventeenth century it had become a verb, to confabulate meaning to converse or talk. And confabulation was clipped to confab by the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Fable comes into English from Latin via French. The Latin fabula has two senses. The first, appearing in poetry and in post-Augustan prose, is simply an account, narration, or story. The second, which dominates the classical or Augustan period, means specifically a fictitious narrative or story. It is this second sense that made its way into English at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

The confusion over the meaning of confabulation can be traced to the Austrian-born, American psychoanalyst Abraham A. Brill, who translated the works of Freud and other early psychologists into English. In his 1924 translation of Eugen Bleuler’s Textbook of Psychiatry, he used the fictional sense of fabula/fable with confabulate to produce new senses of confabulate and confabulation, meaning to fabricate a story and a false story.

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Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary, 1879, s. v. fabulor; fabula

Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989, s. v. confabulation, n.; confabulate, v.; confab, n.; fable, n.

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