early 15c., "mythical, legendary," from Latin fabulosus "celebrated in fable;" also "rich in myths," from fabula "story, tale" (see fable (n.)). Meaning "pertaining to fable" is from 1550s. Sense of "incredible" first recorded c. 1600, hence "enormous, immense, amazing," which was trivialized by 1950s to "marvelous, terrific." Slang shortening fab first recorded 1957; popularized in reference to The Beatles, c. 1963.
Fabulous (often contracted to fab(s)) and fantastic are also in that long list of words which boys and girls use for a time to express high commendation and then get tired of, such as, to go no farther back than the present century, topping, spiffing, ripping, wizard, super, posh, smashing. [Gower's 1965 revision of Fowler's "Modern English Usage"]
Related: Fabulously; fabulousness.
*bhā-; Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to speak, tell, say."
It forms all or part of: abandon; affable; anthem; antiphon; aphasia; aphonia; aphonic; apophasis; apophatic; ban (n.1) "proclamation or edict;" ban (v.); banal; bandit; banish; banlieue; banns (n.); bifarious; blame; blaspheme; blasphemy; boon (n.); cacophony; confess; contraband; defame; dysphemism; euphemism; euphony; fable; fabulous; fado; fairy; fame; famous; fandango; fatal; fate; fateful; fatuous; fay; gramophone; heterophemy; homophone; ineffable; infamous; infamy; infant; infantile; infantry; mauvais; megaphone; microphone; monophonic; nefandous; nefarious; phatic; -phone; phone (n.2) "elementary sound of a spoken language;" phoneme; phonetic; phonic; phonics; phono-; pheme; -phemia; Polyphemus; polyphony; preface; profess; profession; professional; professor; prophecy; prophet; prophetic; quadraphonic; symphony; telephone; xylophone.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Greek pheme "speech, voice, utterance, a speaking, talk," phōnē "voice, sound" of a human or animal, also "tone, voice, pronunciation, speech," phanai "to speak;" Sanskrit bhanati "speaks;" Latin fari "to say," fabula "narrative, account, tale, story," fama "talk, rumor, report; reputation, public opinion; renown, reputation;" Armenian ban, bay "word, term;" Old Church Slavonic bajati "to talk, tell;" Old English boian "to boast," ben "prayer, request;" Old Irish bann "law."
1871, nonsense word (perhaps based on jabber) coined by Lewis Carroll, for the poem of the same name, which he published in "Through the Looking-Glass." The poem is about a fabulous beast called the Jabberwock.