Need a Moment to Think? Learn The Lorem Lip

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit … Memorize it, kids. It could come in handy. If Lorem ipsum can work as a centuries-old, standard placeholder for text, why not for speech? Consider the awesome applications: political conversations over the holidays; awkward, totally unexpected, sexual advances by a friend; foot-tapping queries about your Internet-browsing history; traffic stops by your local boys in blue. (On second thought, don’t give coppers the Lorem Lip. They don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor these days.) In fact, the mysterious, quietly-omnipresent Lorem ipsum we all know and love has been used as a text placeholder, almost as long as there has been text … almost.

Artwork by Pkwahme
Artwork by Pkwahme

Bored with telling the same stories at every Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Super Bowl party, ancient Chinese Buddhists living circa 650 C.E. decided it a far better idea to share their holy texts with loved ones via print: enter stage-left, the first movable type, Chinese woodblock. Using rag paper methods learned from the far reaches of the Islamic Empire (Mesopotamia 3,000 B.C.E. being the birthplace of cuneiform handwriting and, eventually, putting all that to paper), these scholarly Buddhists, notably Wong Jei in 886 C.E. who printed a scroll for his parents, believing it to bring them good luck, set about printing many a scroll filled with kindly, Buddhist tenets. These kind ideas were met with mass silencing and murder of the printers by their own government, not to mention the burning of those very nice scrolls.

Fast forward to 1450-55 C.E.. Johann Gutenberg replaced the wood and clay, blocked type (whole pages set vs. individual characters) with metal type and printed the first substantial, commercial book with individual, movable type: The Gutenberg Bible. Some sixty years after that, Martin Luther would use movable type to tell the Catholic Church a thing or two about a thing or two.

On Hallowe’en Night 1517, Luther tacked his Ninety-Five Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, arguing against the Church’s “sale of indulgences”: basically buying one’s way out of purgatory. Before the Church could say “Hail, Mary!”, scores of Luther-fans, using Gutenberg’s printing press method, helped spread The Ninety-Five Theses all over Europe, much to Catholicism’s dismay.

By the by, there are forty-six surviving copies of original Gutenberg Bibles, most of them resting peacefully in Germany. There are, however, eleven in the United States. If you know how to have fun the right way, including throwing around words like incunabula, and are fortunate enough to live near The Huntington Library, Yale, Harvard, the Library of Congress, Indiana University or any of the other American venues, I suggest you treat yourself to one of mankind’s wonders of ingenuity, before the growing masses of half-wits and jelly beans make the printed book completely obsolete.

Photo: Nils Hamerlinck

Anyhoo, to the point of all this: Lorem ipsum is merely dummy text used until permanent text is put in place. It’s been used for everything from church manuscripts to Civil War-era broadsheets, from Victorian merchant adverts to Vaudevillian playbills, from wedding invitations to websites under construction. Designers and printers have long realized that potential clients and customers will be distracted by actual content when perusing spec media: pamphlets, books, theater bills, advertisements, websites, etc. Lorem ipsum looks just enough like a natural distribution of letters and phrases to fool the brain, without taking focus off the layout. First recorded usage of Lorem ipsum is c. 1500 C.E. when an anonymous printer used it to create a type specimen book. The interesting thing is that whilst it looks like Latin, it also looks like random twaddle. It is, in fact, a combination thereof.

Lorem ipsum actually comes from two sections of Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, or The Extremes of Good and Evil, written in 45 C.E., in Latin. If you’re just geeky enough, and I know you are, you’ll scroll down to see the full, standard Lorem ipsum passage used by printers and designers. You’ll then note one of Cicero’s sections, from whence the passage comes. The letters marked in bold make up the now-standard, fill-in text of Lorem ipsum. It’s like taking bits of text from a Simpsons comic book and creating your own language: Eat my shorts, man! becomes Atmy ort sma! Finally, if you’re still interested, Cicero was translated for us, lovingly, by one H. Rackham of Cambridge, Mass. in 1914. Note his work below, as well.

Looks like a fine wine to me. Sold! Photo: Brett Jordan
Looks like a fine wine to me. Sold! Photo: Brett Jordan

Like so much political discourse, Lorem ipsum is simply a Straw Man, or an Aunt Sally, as the Brits call it: superficial, space-filler taken from original ideas and used to create the illusion of words and meaning, until something better comes along. Try the Lorem Lip next time your boss wants to know why you’ve logged so many hours at or your prof asks if this is your own work.

“Well, sir. You see, lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Right? Oh, and also, atmy ort sma!”

If you say it with confidence and add proper gestures and facial expressions, it will take them a few minutes to figure out what’s going on. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Ctrl+Z, kittens!



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For the truly geeky … read on!

  • Standard Lorem Ipsum passage, used since the 1500s

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing 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.

  • Section 1.10.32 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum”, written by Cicero in 45 B.C.E.

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. 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. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

  • 1914 translation by H. Rackham

But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because 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?


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