Ever Wonder Where Lorem Ipsum Came From?

rogersgeorge on November 15th, 2016

Perhaps, like me, you first encountered that passage of fake Latin when you learned PageMaker in the early days of desktop publishing. The original has been around a lot longer than that, but what is it, anyway, and what does it mean? Here’s a sample of it in case you’re not familiar with it:

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.

What is this nonsense writing for, anyway? You use it when you’re working on developing a layout but you don’t have the actual finished text yet. (By the way, when the text is too small to read, and your page layout program displays a grey area, that’s called Greeking the text.)

So you have some text to manipulate. Ever wonder what it means? Well, it’s taken from a passage of Cicero, the Roman orator. (His full name is Marcus Tullius Cicero, and a lot of the things he wrote are actually pretty good. But I digress.)

If you look up “lorem” in a Latin dictionary, you won’t find it. The rest of the passage contains pseudo-Latin, too. But one day in the 1980’s a scholar stumbled on a passage in Cicero where one page ended with “do-” and the next page began with “lorem” and all the rest. Aha! (By the way, I recommend you not put a page break in the middle of a word.)

So if you’re curious, here’s an English translation after you  straighten out the garbling and add the missing words back in. The text in bold is the lorem ipsum text (dolorum ipsum means “pain itself”, by the way):

Nor again 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. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

[33] On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue; and equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain.

My thanks to the Loeb Classical Library for translating, and to Cicero for writing, De Finibus bonorum et malorum.

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2 Responses to “Ever Wonder Where Lorem Ipsum Came From?”

  1. So, why was that particular passage used or selected for planning a layout?

  2. Everybody supposes that the passage was picked more or less at random. It was clearly obfuscated on purpose, and the fellow who found the passage did it pretty much by accident. We aren’t sure who used the lorem ipsum stuff first, or who created it.

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