Lorem Ipsum

This might be lost on many of you. But it’s truly fascinating to me.

In the world of design, there’s nothing more annoying than a block of text that distracts from the overall theme. This happens primarily before any copy has been written whatsoever, when the concepts are initially being fleshed out and a basic structure is needed to move forward. When this happens, a placeholder is needed.

For someone who is unfamiliar with the design business, myself for instance, it would be easy to just write “content here content here” or “this is where copy will go this is where copy will go” over and over again. But in reality, this is distracting. It follows a repeating pattern that eventually shows in a block of text, moving the eye from the natural focus to the copy in question.

Enter Lorem Ipsum.

Lorem Ipsum, or “greeking,” is a technique used by most designers to create a natural looking block of text without patterns or unnatural breaks. It means nothing, but looks like real copy. It gets its name from the traditional group of words used the most:

”Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.”

The phrase is from Cicero’s “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil), written in 45 BC. The grouping shows a more or less natural progression of letter groups, providing a non-distracting copy for design purposes. It’s been used since 1500, being a standard block that could be inserted without the trouble of composing an entirely new block of type.

Cecil Adams at The Straight Dope describes the discovery that this grouping of words – used for centuries – was actually a bastardized version of Cicero:

This news came from Richard McClintock, a Latin professor turned publications director at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Curious about what the words meant, McClintock had looked up one of the more obscure ones, consectetur, in a Latin dictionary. Going through the cites of the word in classical literature, he found one that looked familiar. Aha! Lorem ipsum was part of a passage from Cicero, specifically De finibus bonorum et malorum, a treatise on the theory of ethics written in 45 BC. The original reads, Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit . . . (“There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain . . .”).
McClintock recalled having seen lorem ipsum in a book of early metal type samples, which commonly used extracts from the classics. “What I find remarkable,” he told B&A, “is that this text has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since some printer in the 1500s took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book; it has survived not only four centuries of letter-by-letter resetting but even the leap into electronic typesetting, essentially unchanged.” So much for the transitory nature of content in the information age.

What does this mean to you, the reader? Nothing. But now you know a little bit of type-setting/design history.

The Lorem Ipsum page (with Lorem Ipsum generator) may help you understand it more, as will the Wikipedia page. If you want to see some more humerous applications, go to Duck Island’s Greeking Machine and choose from the standard Greek, Marketing, Hillbilly, or Technobabble. Or, head over to this Text Generator and enjoy Lorem Ipsum, 70’s television style.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 25th, 2006