Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore.

There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain...” Apart from ignoring the whipped-up pleasures of masochism, this phrase is – in a round-about way – one of the most quoted pieces of literature in the world. Haven’t heard it before?

“Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit...”

Recognize that? No? How about…

“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna.”

Ah, yes! It’s the text that trips from every designer and layout artist’s keyboard – as placeholder filler text before the mundane English extolling the virtues of a DFS sofa, Basildon shopping centre or local-government initiative is given its rightful place in the new document. Flowing in Latin gibberish is ironically known as ‘greeking’. Latin works better than ancient Greek because the point of placeholder text is that it displays a fairly normal distribution of letters – as opposed to using the repetitive ‘Content here, content here’ approach. It looks like readable English, but isn’t readable so doesn’t distract the designer working on the page.

(Other ancient facts to throw into conversations about the history of type: Greek was the first script written from left to right; lowercase letters didn’t appear until 600AD; ‘Indian ink’ was invented by the Chinese, and made from donkey skin; and finally fact fans, to sharpen a quill, writers needed a special tool – hence the term ‘pen-knife’.)

Lorem Ipsum text is pseudo Latin – containing some recognizable Latin words, but jumbled up. Lorem isn’t even a proper Latin word – it’s cut out of “dolorem ipsum”.

But it’s not random. Latin professor Richard McClintock tracked down the origins of the text by investigating the more obscure words – such as “consectetur”. Eventually he came across a passage from Cicero – De finibus bonorum et malorum (The Extremes of Good and Evil), a treatise on the theory of ethics written in 45 BC. The remarkable thing is that Lorem Ipsum wasn’t picked out by some classical scholar turned DTP software engineer in the 1980s. It comes from a book of early metal type samples, which commonly used extracts from the classics. This text has been the industry’s standard dummy text since the sixteenth century. We can thank an unknown printer for picking up Cicero’s pain-free ruminations, and scrambling it so that it worked better for type samples.

It was Aldus PageMaker’s adoption of Lorem Ipsum that allowed the practice to enter the electronic age – after Letraset’s type sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages from the 1960s.

Next time you flow in some Lorems and Ipsums, you should marvel at the 400-year survival of this scrambled text – but beware, as there are many different forms out there.
If presenting designs with Lorem Ipsum filler text to clients, you should always give it a quick scan as some variations include jokes that might not be in the best possible taste. And as Cicero so succinctly put it: “There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain...”