Lorem Ipsum, say what?

March 31st, 2008

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.

Nope, you read correctly. This is my real post. This isn’t a draft copy. The passage is called Lorem Ipsum. When designers and writers say, “Greek it in,” that’s what goes in. It means putting in dummy or placeholder text where actual text will someday reside. It’s a centuries-old practice, literally, potentially dating back to the earliest days of Johannes Gutenberg’s  printing press in the 1500s. Back then and through today, we use dummy text because it allows us to concentrate on the design of a piece. Or it was created by a lazy writer who couldn’t get his job done by the time the designer finished his.

Are you saying that Greeks write dummy text?

Firstly, it isn’t Greek, as the expression would have you believe, but rather, Latin. And secondly, it isn’t dumb at all. In fact, the origin of text has been traced by Richard McClintock of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia to one of the most famous Romans ever to don a toga—Marcus Tullius Cicero (pronounced Ki-ker-o). If only Cicero—a statesman, lawyer, political theorist and philosopher—knew how his text was being used today.

Let me provide a very brief history lesson. When Cicero was kicking around—sounds better spoken—roughly 100 BCE to 50 BCE, he wrote “De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” which loosely translates to “About the Purposes of Good and Evil.” The passage began: “Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit.” The bold part indicates today’s Lorem Ipsum text. Someone along the way, swiped part of that passage and produced Lorem Ipsum—the now-standard text for designers across the world.

But what does it mean? Literally, “Neither is there anyone who loves grief itself since it is grief and thus wants to obtain it.” Not exactly the light, fluffy text you imagined? So the phrase, “Greek it in” means to drop in dummy text that isn’t Greek and isn’t dumb. It’s Latin and was written by one of Rome’s brightest minds.

From a modern-day communications perspective, this practice provides insight into the mind. We’re told a picture is worth a thousand words. And yet, our mind is so determined to process by reading that when showing designs and images, professionals place in foreign sentences. Maybe after all these years, a picture is worth a thousand Latin words—which as we know by now, are not worth the same as English.

In communications, there are things we think we know that in reality, we don’t. Most people think they know what “Greek it in” is and what it means. Most are wrong. And then there are others who think the text is gibberish and has nothing to offer. They too are wrong. So is the lesson that we’re all uneducated? Not quite, but close. The take away is to keep asking questions because everything has meaning.

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