Lorem Ipsum

Many moons ago, in another country and a former century I worked in an advertising agency in London and "lorem ipsum" was a familiar part of my life.

This was a time, barely 20 years ago, when London's Fleet Street was still home to most of Britain's major newspapers and the typesetters worked feverishly to lay down the type for the next day's papers using a process not that far removed from that used by William Caxton's former apprentice, Wynkyn de Worde, when he set up shop in a lane close to Fleet Street almost 500 years earlier; and probably recognizable by the printers of The Daily Courant, London's first daily newspaper, that published its first issue in Fleet Street in March 1702.

But let me back track a moment for those of you not familiar with "lorem ipsum": Lorem ipsum .... is the beginning of a pseudo-Latin passage commonly used as placeholder text by graphic designers focused on the layout of the design rather than the detailed text. It's intended to show how the type will look in the context of a design, while keeping the viewer focused on looking at the design rather than reading the words. This piece of random Latin, sometimes incongruously known as 'greeking', has been the industry's standard dummy text for a long time - some believe as far back as the 1500s (who knows, maybe the delightfully named Wynkyn de Worde, née Jan van Wynkyn, came up with it himself), but until recently it seems that nobody gave a thought to where it came from, or rather perhaps they did, but concluded it was just garbled text.

That was until Richard McClintock, a Latin professor, now publications director at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, set his mind to the question and found his answer by searching for citings of the rarely used word 'consectetur' in classical literature. He found a match:

Lorem ipsum is a garbled version of a section from De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (The Extremes of Good and Evil), a treatise on the theory of ethics by Marcus Tullius Cicero written in 45 BC. - a work that apparently gained popularity during the Renaissance as Western Europe's educated classes rediscovered classic Greek and Latin works that had been all but lost in the decline of the Roman Empire and the subsequent 'Dark Ages'.

The 'classic' version of lorem ipsum, sold in cutable sheet form by Letraset from the 1960s onwards, reads as follows:

"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."

And here is the first part in its original setting (section 1.10.32 of "de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum"):

"Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?"

Some readers might be asking why a presumed 16th century typesetter chose to garble the Latin text rather than simply run in its original form? The answer is for the same reason that designers today continue to use 'lorem ipsum' - to make it unintelligible. As most reading this will know, although the Roman Empire collapsed a thousand years before, Latin retained its dominance as the international language of science and scholarship, and was the lingua franca of the educated classes, in Central and Western Europe until well into the 17th century - some would say almost up to the early 20th century. Even today, it is still the official language of The Vatican City (the smallest sovereign city-state in the world consisting of the 110 acre walled enclave in the center of Rome; population 900).

Writing in Before & After, a desktop publishing magazine (volume 4 number 2), McClintock says, "What I find remarkable 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."

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