The art of Lorem Ipsum

Unless you are a typesetter or graphic designer, the phrase “lorem ipsum” is Greek to you. In fact, that’s what it’s called—greeking. Lorem Ipsum is placeholder type, used to fill in for real words in ad design, book layout, magazine dummies and new websites.

Lorem_Ipsum_by_NeoSHBecause it mimics the length of English words and sentences,  it looks genuine, but because it has no meaning and isn’t repetitive, it doesn’t call attention to itself as clients look at design.

It’s so popular in design that Apple.com has a widget that lets you generate your own Lorem Ipsum.  Never heard of it? Here’s the first paragraph:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nullam vel turpis. Sed justo. Phasellus malesuada sem non sapien. Nunc feugiat nulla eu augue interdum vestibulum. Aliquam urna lorem, hendrerit vitae, fermentum ut, rutrum eu, massa. Maecenas nec sapien. Morbi ante ligula, dignissim vel, vulputate sed, ultrices vel, lorem. Nunc nulla nunc, tincidunt posuere, egestas eu, ultrices eget, diam. Nullam pharetra pretium mauris. Sed quam nibh, posuere eget, ultrices vitae, rhoncus ac, nisi.

I assumed that it was scrambled text, with no meaning. But I was wrong. It has a proud history, about 500 years of it, and it is one of the few print facsimiles that made the leap into the digital world with no damage.

Sometime around 1500, a typesetter wanted to display different fonts, so he

And ad, greeked in with lorem ipsum.

And ad, greeked in with lorem ipsum.

made a sample book by scrambling some type from a text he had printed. The book was “The Extremes of Good and Evil,” by Cicero, who wrote the ethics treatise around 45 BCE. Lorem Ipsum, more precisely,  has a 2,000 year history.

Yes, Cicero was a Roman, and Lorem Ipsum is called “greeking,” but it was Cicero who introduced Greek philosophy to Roman culture, and then developed a Latin vocabulary for Greek philosophical terms. And Cicero wrote much of his work in Greek.

Who discovered the link between greeking and Cicero? It’s attributed to a Latin scholar— Richard McClintock, from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. He looked up keywords from the passage, and found a match in sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil).  The first line,  “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..”, comes from a line in section 1.10.32.

Entranced yet? Wear your love of lorem ipsum on your sleeve. Well, at least on your arm.

Quinn McDonald remembers how to spec type, hot lead type, and paste-up nights at the newspaper. Now she’s a writer, who helps others remember and helps them forget.

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12 thoughts on “The art of Lorem Ipsum

  1. I’ve used it too, but didn’t know the back story. Thanks for sharing it and here’s to hoping you’ll never need this Lorem ipsum-text as a blog post! 😉

  2. The trouble is I do find it distracting . . . it shouts at me to make meaning from it however bizarre! I start thinking of what some words and phrases might mean and away I go, off into a fantastical world of make believe. It’s very nice here but I do wish the malesuada wouldn’t vulputate quite so much.

  3. I knew what this was, and what it was used for, but did not know its history–wonderful! BTW, I love your tags. It occurs to me that you actually help others know WHAT to remember, and WHAT to forget. Thank you for all the “whats” you’ve show me.

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