What’s that gibberish? The story behind placeholder text

Jul 9, 2015

lorem-ipsum-textMost of our clients and authors have gotten a mock layout from us at some point that has contained a seemingly jumbled assembly of letters where there should be sensible text: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. We’ve had more than one email back with the question, “Why is my book/brochure in Spanish/Latin?”

Let us introduce you to lorem ipsem, the dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. In spite of its illogical appearance, there is a lot of order and reason behind it.

Lorem ipsem is probably one of the only things in the printing industry that has remained unchanged for centuries. Many sources state that it was created in the 1500s by an unknown printer who scrambled a passage of type to make a book specimen. Popularized in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets, it made the leap into digital publishing in the 1980s when Aldus Corporation created a variation for use in PageMaker and for the Apple Macintosh.

Lorem ipsem is that language we all hold in high esteem, Latin—well, deconstructed Latin, anyway. The original author of the source text, identified by Hampden-Sydney Director of Publications Richard McClintock, is Cicero, the Roman lawyer and writer remembered as Rome’s greatest orator. Specifically, it is pulled from section 1.10.32 of his essay called “On the Extremes of Good and Evil,” or De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. If you’re intrigued, you can find the Latin text and the English translation with major lorem ipsum source phrases noted here.

Even if, or perhaps especially if, you are proficient in Latin, lorem ipsem is likely to frustrate you. It’s intentionally modified almost beyond recognition for the purpose of providing designers and printers across the land with a method of steering clients to focus on the layout and design aspects in a project without getting bogged down in the details of the content.

So it’s true . . . Latin is not dead. And as a design firm, we pay homage to it almost every day when we click that “fill with placeholder text” button in InDesign.


photo credit: Lorem Ipsum via photopin (license)
photo credit: Lorem Bokeh 1 via photopin (license)


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