Lorem ipsum: The placeholder’s tale

Lorem ipsum: you may have seen these words in a draft design or, if things have gone badly wrong during the proofreading process, on a live website or in a printed document. Lorem ipsum is placeholder or ‘dummy’ text that is used to fill a design before the actual text content is available. Using Latin removes the temptation for reviewers to read the text and encourages them to assess a design on its own merits.

A common form reads: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing 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.

But what is lorem ipsum? What does it mean?

The origin of the lorem ipsum text is a book on ethics written by the Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero in 45 BC. This translation from the original provides a flavour of the content: “Nor is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure.”

But, sometime in the 1500s, a printer picked out text from Cicero’s original and scrambled its order to make a specimen book. This swapping around means that the standard lorem ipsum paragraph we use today cannot be translated into meaningful English: it is Latin gibberish. The term ‘lorem’, for example, is not a Latin word, but a truncated version of the word dolorem, which means pain.

How did this piece of mangled Latin prose end up on your desktop?

Lorem ipsum has been used by printers for centuries and has maintained its position as the ‘standard’ filler text even in the face of new technologies. In the 1960s, lorem ipsum was printed on transfer sheets and used by architects and advertising agencies. In the 1980s, it was brought into word-processing templates on personal computers. Today, you can find it in almost any piece of software for writers or designers. Lorem ipsum is in Microsoft Word templates, WordPress web designs and Google Docs.

Quite a journey from its classical origins.

We do not use a lot of lorem ipsum at Creative RSK. Our process usually starts with text content, which we then combine with design once the technical or marketing message has been checked and approved. This content-led approach relies on the expertise and interpretive skills of our designers to create and fit their designs to the text, and it ensures that clear client messages are delivered every time.