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The French lettering company Letraset manufactured a set of dry-transfer sheets which included the lorem ipsum filler text in a variety of fonts, sizes, and layouts. These sheets of lettering could be rubbed on anywhere and were quickly adopted by graphic artists, printers, architects, and advertisers for their professional look and ease of use. Aldus Corporation, which later merged with Adobe Systems, ushered lorem ipsum into the information age with its desktop publishing software Aldus PageMaker.

The program came bundled with lorem ipsum dummy text for laying out page content, and other word processors like Microsoft Word followed suit. More recently the growth of web design has helped proliferate lorem ipsum across the internet as a placeholder for future text—and in some cases the final content (this is why we proofread, kids).

So when is it okay to use lorem ipsum? First, lorem ipsum works well for staging. It’s like the props in a furniture store—filler text makes it look like someone is home. The same WordPress template might eventually be home to a fitness blog, a photography website, or the online journal of a cupcake fanatic. Lorem ipsum helps them imagine what the lived-in website.

So when is it okay to use lorem ipsum? First, lorem ipsum works well for staging. It’s like the props in a furniture store—filler text makes it look like someone is home. The same WordPress template might eventually be home to a fitness blog, a photography website, or the online journal of a cupcake fanatic. Lorem ipsum helps them imagine what the lived-in website might look like.

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So how did the classical Latin become so incoherent? According to McClintock, a 15th century typesetter likely scrambled part of Cicero’s De Finibus in order to provide placeholder text to mockup various fonts for a type specimen book. It’s difficult to find examples of lorem ipsum in use before Letraset made it popular as a dummy text in the 1960s.

Although McClintock says he remembers coming across the lorem ipsum passage in a book of old metal type samples. So far he hasn’t relocated where he once saw the passage, but the popularity of Cicero in the 15th century supports the theory that the filler text has been used for centuries. And anyways, as Cecil Adams reasoned, “[Do you really] think graphic arts supply houses were hiring classics scholars in the 1960s?” Perhaps. But it seems reasonable to imagine that there was a version in use far before the age of Letraset.

As an alternative theory, (and because Latin scholars do this sort of thing) someone tracked down a 1914 Latin edition of De Finibus which challenges McClintock’s 15th century claims and suggests that the dawn of lorem ipsum was as recent as the 20th century. The 1914 Loeb Classical Library Edition ran out of room on page 34 for the Latin phrase “dolorem ipsum” (sorrow in itself).

Whether a medieval typesetter chose to garble a well-known (but non-Biblical—that would have been sacrilegious) text, or whether a quirk in the 1914 Loeb Edition inspired a graphic designer, it’s admittedly.

When you are designing with Lorem Ipsum, you diminish the importance of the copy by lowering it to the same level as any other visual element. The text simply becomes another supporting role, serving to make other aspects more aesthetic. Instead of your design enhancing the meaning of the content century.

Although McClintock says he remembers coming across the lorem ipsum passage in a book of old metal type samples. So far he hasn’t relocated where he once saw the passage, but the popularity of Cicero in the 15th century supports the theory that the filler text has been used for centuries. And anyways, as Cecil Adams reasoned, “[Do you really] think graphic arts supply houses were hiring classics scholars in the 1960s?” Perhaps. But it seems reasonable to imagine that there was a version in use far before the age of Letraset.

When you are designing with Lorem Ipsum, you diminish the importance of the copy by lowering it to the same level as any other visual element. The text simply becomes another supporting role, serving to make other aspects more aesthetic. Instead of your design enhancing the meaning of the content century.

As an alternative theory, (and because Latin scholars do this sort of thing) someone tracked down a 1914 Latin edition of De Finibus which challenges McClintock’s 15th century claims and suggests that the dawn of lorem ipsum was as recent as the 20th century. The 1914 Loeb Classical Library Edition ran out of room on page 34 for the Latin phrase “dolorem ipsum” (sorrow in itself).

And that’s why a 15th century typesetter might have scrambled a passage of Cicero; he wanted people to focus on his fonts, to imagine their own content on the pages. He wanted people to see, and to get them to see he had to keep them from reading.

Second, use lorem ipsum if you think the placeholder text will be too distracting. For specific projects, collaboration between copywriters and designers may be best, however, like Karen McGrane said, draft copy has a way of turning any meeting about layout decisions into a discussion about word choice. So don’t be afraid to use lorem ipsum to keep everyone focused.

When you are designing with Lorem Ipsum, you diminish the importance of the copy by lowering it to the same level as any other visual element. The text simply becomes another supporting role, serving to make other aspects more aesthetic. Instead of your design enhancing the meaning of the content century.

As an alternative theory, (and because Latin scholars do this sort of thing) someone tracked down a 1914 Latin edition of De Finibus which challenges McClintock’s 15th century claims and suggests that the dawn of lorem ipsum was as recent as the 20th century. The 1914 Loeb Classical Library Edition ran out of room on page 34 for the Latin phrase “dolorem ipsum” (sorrow in itself).

And that’s why a 15th century typesetter might have scrambled a passage of Cicero; he wanted people to focus on his fonts, to imagine their own content on the pages. He wanted people to see, and to get them to see he had to keep them from reading. But I must explain to you how all this mistaken.

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