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Lorem Ipsum Solved
2 Dec

Solved! Lorem Ipsum is NOT 16th Century Filler Text

Lorem Ipsum

This is Lorem Ipsum:

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.

Here is an example of Lorem Ipsum from Wikipedia’s Help page for editors.

Lorem Ipsum example
An example of Lorem Ipsum. From the Wikipedia Help pages.

The Help page shows how to place an image on a Wikipedia page. The instructions would be confusing without the surrounding text.

Web designers use this “filler text” when they are designing a website and don’t have the text for a section yet. Why do they use this text and where did it come from? You can find hundreds of websites that cover this history. The most popular version of the story goes like this: “Lorem Ipsum has been the standard filler text of the typesetting industry since the 1500s. An unknown printer scrambled some Latin type to make a type specimen book. Remarkably, this standard survived five centuries of any and all competitors. It made the leap to electronic typesetting remaining essentially unchanged. In the 1960s, the Letraset company released self-adhesive sheets that contained the Lorem Ipsum passages. In the 1980s Aldus, an early desktop publishing software company included versions of Lorem Ipsum in its popular Pagemaker software.

Despite there being hundreds of websites that claim Lorem Ipsum originated in the sixteenth century, it is unlikely that Lorem Ipsum is anywhere near that old. Incidentally, the 1500s are called the sixteenth century just like the 1900s were the twentieth century. The first century ran until around 100 A.D. Depending on who you ask, the second century began in 100 or 101 A.D. The presence of a century before the century whose years all start with a “1” is why the 1500s are the sixteenth century.

Why do Designers Need Filler Text?

Without the filler text, a website will have be empty where the text goes. Depending on how it’s designed, this could cause parts of the design to be misaligned.  The presence of filler text sometimes has an unintended consequence. The clients find themselves distracted from the design by the meaning of the words which have nothing to do with the customer‘s business. The solution to this, discovered years ago, was to use filler text written in a foreign language. But what if that client just happened to know that language? The solution that solved all these problems is known as Lorem Ipsum.

Is Lorem Ipsum Latin?

You might speculate that Lorem Ipsum is written in Latin.  Most of the words in it are Latin words. The ones that aren’t  Latin either look like half of a Latin word or look like they are formed from parts of two other Latin words. The “sentences” that the words form do not have meaning. It’s like someone cut a bunch of words out of a Latin text, rearranged them and glued them back together. Lorem Ipsum has become so prevalent that Google has indexed 70 million webpages with the phrase Lorem Ipsum. Some of those pages are on unfinished websites while others are informational pages about Lorem Ipsum.

“Lorem Ipsum” gets its name from its first two “words,” though the first word is not actually a Latin word. Those who know Latin will recognize that “lorem ipsum” is two letters short of forming the Latin phrase “Dolorem Ipsum.  Once I started researching the history of Lorem Ipsum, I realized that there were was much speculation and little in the way of documentation. That speculation has spread from website to website without much discussion of its speculative nature.

I read many variants of this story though the version above contained the common threads in most of them . Something kept bothering me about that story though. It was the often repeated phrase, “unknown printer.” This person’s anonymity is a red flag. If there is no record of a sixteenth century publisher’s name, I’d like to know why. Not one website in my original research addressed this. Nor did any of them provide any evidence linking the filler text to that century. But to know more, I’d have to dig deeper and see what evidence there is for a 16th Century origin of Lorem Ipsum. I would soon find that the origin of Lorem Ipsum was a book written by the author with the most books published in the second half of the 16th Century.

Remixing Cicero

Lorem Ipsum Article: CIcero
Lorem Ipsum is a remix of Cicero’s De Finubus Bonorum et Malorum

 

There is no definitive version of Lorem Ipsum. The different versions have enough in common that we can identify the source, though. There is no doubt that the words come from Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, “On the Extremes of Good and Evil.” Cicero wrote it around 45 BC.

Cicero had a dazzling political career in the Roman Republic. He held Rome’s four highest political offices suo anno. This term, meaning, “in his year,” was used to describe someone elected to each office at the youngest age that the law permitted. Not only was Cicero elected to these offices suo anno, but he was also a novus homo, or “new man,” a phrase reserved for someone having been elected Consul without any member of his family having held the office before. This was a rare accomplishment in Cicero’s time, and he took great pride in it.

Cicero was widely known as a great orator and writer. Six of his books on rhetoric, parts of his eight books on philosophy, fifty-two of his speeches and more than eight hundred of his letters have survived the two thousand years that separate us from his time. This is an enormous volume of work from one author to have survived from ancient times.

Most everything written that old, even by prominent people, has been lost or deliberately destroyed. No matter what your viewpoint, two-thousand years is long enough that a powerful group is likely to arise that opposes it. And often destroy it. But Cicero’s writings were so revered that the early Catholic Church declared Cicero a “righteous pagan.” When the works of other pagans were being destroyed, Cicero’s works were usually exempt.

De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

Multiple articles credit Latin professor Richard McClintock with finding not only the text that it came from but the exact passage.

One of the book’s passages has most of the words that appear in Lorem Ipsum:

Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem.

An Origin in the Middle Ages

In the mid 1990s, Richard McClintock explained why he believed that a sixteenth century printer transformed a 45 BC text into the filler text we call Lorem Ipsum. McClintock thinks that at some point, most likely in the middle ages, a foundry published a font specimen guide for customers. They would have wanted to show font examples with as little distraction as possible from the typographical elements. This is why, he thinks, they scrambled the Latin to produce “mostly gibberish.”

They further explain that McClintock located the passage by focusing on the word “consectetur,” a Latin word that escaped scrambling. It’s also a word that was not used much, a perfect candidate for locating the original text. McClintock’s search brought him to Cicero.

And why would our unknown typesetter choose Cicero?

For the same reasons that made him a popular writer in his time. Cicero has always been popular reading for students of Latin. “Cicero was everywhere,” says McClintock.

Books in the 1500s

The Universal Short Title Catalogue

I didn’t realize just how popular Cicero was in the Middle Ages until I came across the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC). The USTC is a database of books published in Europe between the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press and the end of the sixteenth century. The goal is to index every book published that meets those conditions. The extensive project started in 1997 and has been ongoing. Their database records 113,133 titles published between 1500 and 1550. The total number of titles printed in Latin was 59, 654 .  Here are the top languages and authors for 1500 to 1550.

Top Languages and Authors. Europe. 1500-1550

16th_century_a_book_survey

Latin makes up 52% of the published titles.  The second most popular language was German at 19%. There are two good reasons for German’s second place showing. The first reason is that movable type was invented in Germany at Gutenberg. The second is the popularity of the Protestant Reformation. Now, let’s look at the authors. Look at number three. Marcus Tullius Cicero with 1749 printings. The database counts each press and book one time. If a book is published in one hundred different publishing houses, then that will count as one hundred.

Now let’s look at the second half of the sixteenth century.

The database lists 223,408 books. There were nearly twice as many books published in Europe in the second half of the sixteenth century than the first. Forty-one percent of the printed books were in Latin. Now, our number one author is Cicero with 1,828 publishings.

Top Languages and Authors. Europe. 1550-1600

6th_century_b_book_survey

The Lorem Ipsum 16th Century Conjecture

Lorem Ipsum originated in the 1500s. An unknown publisher needed filler text that would not distract a client from the layout. The publisher took text from Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorem and scrambled it for use as filler text.

More than 320,000 websites in Google’s database tell this story or one similar to it. Where did this story originate? We now meet Professor Richard McClintock.

A 1996 FAQ on Lorem Ipsum

Everyone has their tried and true research methods. One of mine is to look for the oldest sources I can find. I started by looking for the oldest versions of the Lorem Ipsum history we’ve learned so far.

I quickly found the Comp.Fonts FAQ on Lorem Ipsum.. It is dated August 14, 1996. If you ever want to verify what a web page looked like in the past, use The Internet Archive. The archive has more than 250 million web pages dating back to the 1990s. I was able to verify that the FAQ looked the same in 1999 as it does today. That’s the oldest year I could verify. 

The Comp.Fonts FAQ quotes Before and After Magazine, Volume 4 Number 2:

After telling everyone that Lorem ipsum, the nonsensical text that comes with PageMaker, only looks like Latin but actually says nothing, I heard from Richard McClintock, publication director at the Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, who had enlightening news:

“Lorem ipsum is latin, slightly jumbled, the remnants of a passage from Cicero’s _de Finibus_ 1.10.32, which begins ‘Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit…’ [There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain.]. [de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, written in 45 BC, is a treatise on the theory of ethics very popular in the Renaisance.]

“What I find remarkable is that this text has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since some printed in the 1500s took a galley of type and scambled it to make a type specemin book; it has survived not only four centuries of letter-by-letter resetting but even the leap into electronic typesetting, essentially unchanged except for an occational ‘ing’ or ‘y’ thrown in. It’s ironic that when the then-understood Latin was scrambled, it became as incomprehensible as Greek; the phrase ‘it’s Greek to me’ and ‘greeking’ have common semantic roots!”

Wait a minute. All those websites referred to Latin professor Richard McClintock. He is really publication director Richard McClintock?” It wasn’t too difficult to figure out what was going on here. Richard McClintock’s LinkedIn page said this:

Richard McClintock

It seems like the older resource is correct. Does this mean our story ends here? What about the rest of the profile? Languages: French, German, Latin. Can read Spanish, Italian. Hmmm.  Education?

 

latineducation

OK, then. A Ph.D. in “Classics, Latin.” McClintock’s education makes it feasible that he might have made the statement, but we don’t know if he ever actually said anything at all about Lorem Ipsum.  He might have said nothing at all. Or maybe he did say something but was intentionally or accidentally misquoted. Or maybe he did say what is claimed, but is just wrong.

It turns out that we can figure out exactly when and where the version of De Finibus used to create Lorem Ipsum came from.

The 1914 Loeb Classical Edition: De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

The 1914 Loeb Classical Library Edition of Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum hyphenates the Latin word Dolorem simply because there wasn’t enough room left on the page to print the entire word. “Do-” appears on the bottom of one page and continues as “lorum” at the top of the next.

Excerpt from De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. Page A.

Lorem Ipsum

The hyphenated word in this particular edition is most surely why we have Lorem Ipsum and not Dolorem Ipsum.

The Conjecture

Let’s revisit the reasoning behind why a typesetter in the 1500s would create Lorem Ipsum and see if it makes sense. Lipsum.com stated “It is a long established fact that a reader will be distracted by the readable content of a page when looking at its layout.” The 1996 comps.com FAQ says that “when the then-understood Latin was scrambled, it became as incomprehensible as Greek.” According to these sources, the reason for the use of Lorem Ipsum then, as it is now, was to use filler text that did not distract the reader from looking at the layout and typography. 

Today, someone looking for a language to scramble and use for filler text would consider Latin a good choice. Only a small number of people know it. Scrambling it makes it even less likely that it will distract the reader. Still, there are many English words and phrases derived from Latin. And many Latin idioms have survived the ages. If you see the words “Veni Vidi Vici” you’ll likely be distracted by it. So don’t take your chances. Scramble it. If you see “Vici agricola magnam veni opus” you’re not going to be distracted by it. Instead, you’ll pay attention to the graphic assets you are about to buy. Does this support a sixteenth century date? Quite the opposite.  We learned from the database kept by the Universal Short Title Catalogue that that Cicero’s works were held in such high regard in the latter half of the sixteenth century that he was the most published author. We also learned that almost half the books published in Europe at the time were published in Latin.

A sixteenth century date for the origin of Lorem Ipsum is looking shaky.

WWGD

What’s the oldest confirmed record we can find of Lorem Ipsum text? Time to go back to today’s version of the Oracle. What Would Google Do?

We can use  Google Books Ngram Viewer to search 450 million words that appear in millions of books. You search for a phrase, and Google returns a graph of how frequently it appeared in books from 1800 to 2008. You can also click on a date range to see the search results with a direct link to the matching pages. There are dozens of advanced searches  that multiply the power of this tool. It’s worth taking the time to learn.

Google Books  N-Gram Frequency for “Lorem Ipsum”

ngrams_lorem_ipsum

I have not included the chart from 1800 to 1950 as there were no results. The oldest dates on the graph are from the early 1970s. First, I want to take a look at the 1980s to see if anything stands out.

Aldus Pagemaker

The 1980s link returns a name that appears on many sites. Aldus PageMaker.

aldus_pagemaker

The above photo is from the 1987 PageMaker reference manual. If you had Aldus Pagemaker, you could choose to insert Lorem Ipsum into your text automatically. This might explain how Lorem Ipsum spread in the mid to late 1980s, but it doesn’t answer the question of origins. Let’s look at those earliest listings.

My search of Google n-grams returned five books from the beginning of the 1970s that use the phrase “Lorem ipsum” as dummy text. Google returns no results earlier than that. A look at the five books shows multiple versions of “Lorem Ipsum.” They are all primarily composed from a scrambling of the 1914 Loeb Edition of De Finibus. I’ve color-coded words and phrases in the text. The coding makes it easier to compare the book texts with Cicero.

Lorem Ipsum. 1st 5 Books

 

 

The text exceprts from the five books are above and can be compared phrase-by-phrase with the 1914 Loeb Edition of De Finibus.

Comparison of Cicero and Lorem Ipsum

 

All five of these books contained scrambled words from two sentences of a 1914 printing of a two-thousand year old book.

It is not a coincidence that these five books all contained a passage starting with “Lorem Ipsum,” the word “Lorem” not even being a Latin word. All five were followed by words that came from the two sentences in De Finibus.  The 1914 Loeb Edition is the ultimate source.

The silence of earlier dates is significant.

Detroit

Michigan Purchasing Management,  Detroit Discovery and Ward’s Auto World all have a Detroit, Michigan connection. Ward’s Auto World, located in Detroit, Michigan is still in business today. Why are three of the five known oldest books containing Lorem Ipsum connected through one city? I’ve never seen this mentioned anymore. Unfortunately, I have not been able to figure out the answer.

What We’re Looking For

Given all the evidence we’ve seen, what are we looking for? We’re looking for something that was produced in the early 1970s or maybe the late 1960s. I have to believe that whatever it is, it came with written instructions. The similarity but not the sameness of the text in the five books from 1971-1973 is the biggest clue by far.

In addition to written instructions, I believe we are looking for a product that distributed the text to customers. To think otherwise, we would have to believe that someone instructed five or more people to remix a paragraph from the 1914 Loeb Classics Edition of De Finibus Bonorum et Dolorum. Not only would that specific edition have to be mentioned, found and used, but the instructions would have to be precise enough that only words from the first two sentences would appear. I searched for many words in Google books from the sentences that followed the first two for the period 1971-1973. There were no results.

What fits these requirements?

Letraset Self-Adhesive Sheets

Like Aldus Pagemaker, the name Letraset has been a common thread running through many of the websites I’ve examined. Letraset was formed in 1959. They made self-adhesive sheets that had letters and images that could be cut and then stuck to documents. A handful of typographers that worked in the 1970s and possibly the 1960s have mentioned the Letraset sheets. Some of them remember some Latin on them. No one seems to have one of these sheets with the Lorem Ipsum text. They are similar to the Letraset sheets below though these are “rub-off” versions.

Cutting out Letraset Letters

letraset

The following email from 1995 mentions the self-adhesive sheets. I’ve removed a section that repeats information I’ve discussed earlier in the article.


From owner-classics@u.washington.edu Thu Oct  5 10:18:44 1995
Date: Thu, 5 Oct 1995 09:07:59 -0500
Sender: owner-classics@u.washington.edu
From: jeffc@vnet.net (Jeff Chandler)
To: classics
Subject: Re: Pig Latin Dialects

… section removed …

Before electronic publishing, graphic designers had to mock up layouts by drawing in squiggled lines to indicate text. The advent of self-adhesive sheets preprinted with “Lorem ipsum” gave a more realistic way to indicate where text would go on a page.

Found in France!

I found what I was looking for on a French website written in 2012. The article has the following photos. They are French versions of Letraset Sheets. The Latin, of course, would be the same, but the instructions are in French. The author of the article found them in the library of the École Estienne.

French Letraset Self-Adhesive Instructions

planches de texte muet

Close-up of the Lorem Ipsum section

lorem ipsum dolor sit amet

Notice that there are twelve different versions. These are meant to be peeled or cut and then stuck to a document.  They must be quite similar to the product used by the authors or companies behind the five books printed 1971-1973. Though they cannot be the same. What makes sense is that something similar to this, with individual lines of text that could be cut out or peeled off must have been used by the US companies.

The mystery of Detroit will be tougher to tackle. I do not know the answer to that at this time. It is possible that one individual or company did typography or layout work for the three Detroit area book writers.

The Work of Phillipe Cibios

I would like to share the work of Phillipe Cibois. I found his work at the end of an hours-long search for an image of Letraset Lorem Ipsum. He tracked down the two photos in the last section. He has written a few articles on Lorem Ipsum. His article from March 6, 2012, Lorem ipsum : nouvel état de la question, is an impressive work of scholarly inquiry. His work anticipated most of what I found by nearly five years. We even both used Google n-grams as a research tool. We also both highlighted matching text sections, he with bold font and I with colored fonts.

If the interpretation is correct, we arrived at similar but slightly different conclusions. Cibios believes Letraset first produced the Lorem Ipsum sheet in the 1960s and is open-minded toward a possible date between 1914 and the introduction by Letraset. I believe Letraset produced a version in the US around 1970-71. I think it likely that Letraset was the first entity to use Lorem Ipsum text derived from the 1914 Loebs Classical version of De Finibus.

I believe that Letraset must have produced a sheet for the US that had a slightly different layout than the one they made for France. I do not know Cibios’ thoughts on that.

Mr. Cibois is a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Versailles. His academic work is most impressive. We have many similar interests such as data analysis and logistic regression, and I plan to contact him this week. If he has any updated information regarding Lorem Ipsum, I will report it.

“Dummy Text”

As I was preparing this article for the blog, I had an idea that led to some interesting results. As discussed earlier, the oldest scanned book in Google’s database that contains the phrase “lorem ipsum” was printed in 1971. How long had printers used “dummy text” prior to 1971?

Once again, I used Google N-grams Viewer. I searched all cases and included “filler text” in the search. The following chart was the result.

Google N-Gram Viewer Results for Dummy Text and Filler Text.

google_ngram_dummy_text4

 

It looks remarkably similar to the graph for “lorem Ipsum.” In fact, the oldest book containing the word “dummy text” also appeared in 1971. This is the same year for which we found the earliest appearance of “Lorem Ipsum.” Is this a coincidence or are these facts related? The phrase “Dummy text” appears in Volume 5, Issue 3 of the journal Visible Language, published in July, 1971. The journal is still in existence. Because Visible Language is the oldest design journal, operating since 1967, the journal’s publishers have made all back issues available to researchers.

The article that mentions “dummy text” is A Prototype Computerized Page-Design System by Aaron Marcus. The article discusses the need for graphic designers to have a computer that can represent graphical material on a monitor and have the capability to add, delete and move blocks of type and illustrations on the display. The author points out that there are computers that can do this for typographical elements but not for graphical. Marcus describes a prototype of a program he has developed while working at Bell Laboratories. Much of the article is concerned with reserving space for text while allowing the user to move graphical elements around. Marcus mentions using pre-prepared files of text that would allow the user to simulate any desired type, size, leading and other type settings. There are seven times in which Marcus refers to this prepared type as “dummy text.”

The article’s description sounds remarkably similar to how Aldus Pagemaker would later work, as far as its use of dummy text and in that case, it used “Lorem Ipsum.” Aldus however, would not be formed until 1985. It is possible that his article influenced others and this is an area to be investigated.

What does Lorem Ipsum mean?

Remember that Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum translates to “On the Ends of Good and Evil.” Cicero wrote the book in one and a half months during the summer of 45 BC, the year before the assassination of Julius Caesar.  De Finibus is a philosophical work divided into five books. Book I, in a section on hedonism, contains the passage that has become Lorem Ipsum. Lorem, as discussed earlier was not a Latin word. It is the second part of the hyphenated Dolorem. The question should be “what does Dolorem Ipsum” mean?

The answer is “pain itself.”

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