Monthly Archives: December 2015

Where did “Ipsum Lorem” come from?

When you design a new web site, a design convention is to put in blocks of Latin text called Lorem Ipsum. This, the theory goes, lets you visually assess the aesthetics of the design without being distracted by the meaning of the text. I’ve always found this concept a little sort of, I dunno, aesthetically sociopathic — I mean, isn’t form supposed to follow function? But it got me interested in the origins of Lorem Ipsum.

Hello, Wikipedia! According to the hivemind over there …

A variation of the ordinary lorem ipsum text has been used in typesetting since the 1960s or earlier, when it was popularized by advertisements for Letraset transfer sheets. It was introduced to the Information Age in the mid-1980s by Aldus Corporation, which employed it in graphics and word processing templates for its desktop publishing program, PageMaker, for the Apple Macintosh.

Better yet is the what Lorem Ipsum means. It’s from a text by Cicero called “On the Ends of Goods and Evils”, and …

The original passage began: Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet consectetur adipisci velit (translation: “Neither is there anyone who loves, pursues or desires pain itself because it is pain”).

I hunted down this free online translation and found the passage in which this extract occurs. It’s pretty interesting; it’s all about the necessity of embracing pain. In it, he notes that there really is not anyone …

… who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? [snip] We denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of the pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue; and equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain. [snip] The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains.

Cool, but how precisely did designers pick this text to use? Why Cicero? And why this Cicero text?

According to a speculation at the Pricenomics blog, the original folks at Letraset may have picked it simply because Cicero was/is an extremely popular writer … and if you were sitting around looking for a long chunk of non-English text to work with, the odds were good you’d reach over to your shelf and find a copy of Cicero. As they quote the Latin professor Richard McClintock saying …

At some point, likely in the middle ages, a typesetter had to make a type specimen book, to demo different fonts, and he got the idea that if the text should be insensible, so as not to distract from the page’s graphical features. So he took a handy page of non-Biblical Latin — Cicero — and scrambled it into mostly gibberish. “Lorem” isn’t even a Latin word — it’s the second half of “dolorem,” meaning “pain” or “sorrow”. Thus Lorem Ipsum was born, and began its long journey to ubiquity.

I must say I’m charmed by the image of thousands of art directors out there, today, working into the wee hours as they attempt to design their textbooks and web sites and pamphlets and corporate reports, all gazing down at a Latin text that encourages them to embrace necessary pain.