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how did the classical Latin become so incoherent?

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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.

McClintock wrote to Before & After to explain his discovery

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Technology

The strength of lorem ipsum is its weakness: it doesn’t communicate.

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Among design professionals, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding the filler text. Controversy, as in Death to Lorem Ipsum.

The strength of lorem ipsum is its weakness: it doesn’t communicate. To some, designing a website around placeholder text is unacceptable, akin to sewing a custom suit without taking measurements. Kristina Halvorson notes:

“I’ve heard the argument that “lorem ipsum” is effective in wireframing or design because it helps people focus on the actual layout, or color scheme, or whatever. What kills me here is that we’re talking about creating a user experience that will (whether we like it or not) be DRIVEN by words. The entire structure of the page or app flow is FOR THE WORDS.”

Lorem ipsum is so ubiquitous because it is so versatile. Select how many paragraphs you want, copy, paste, and break the lines wherever it is convenient. Real copy doesn’t work that way.

As front-end developer Kyle Fiedler put it:

“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, your content is enhancing your design.”

But despite zealous cries for the demise of lorem ipsum, others, such as Karen McGrane, offer appeals for moderation:

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McClintock’s 15th century claims and suggests that

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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). Thus, the truncated phrase leaves one page dangling with “do-”, while another begins with the now ubiquitous “lorem ipsum”.

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 an odd way for Cicero to sail into the 21st 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). Thus, the truncated phrase leaves one page dangling with “do-”, while another begins with the now ubiquitous “lorem ipsum”.

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 an odd way for Cicero to sail into the 21st century.

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Richard McClintock, a Latin scholar from Hampden-Sydney College

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Until recently, the prevailing view assumed lorem ipsum was born as a nonsense text. “It’s not Latin, though it looks like it, and it actually says nothing,” Before & After magazine answered a curious reader, “Its ‘words’ loosely approximate the frequency with which letters occur in English, which is why at a glance it looks pretty real.”

As Cicero would put it, “Um, not so fast.”

The placeholder text, beginning with the line “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit”, looks like Latin because in its youth, centuries ago, it was Latin.

Richard McClintock, a Latin scholar from Hampden-Sydney College, is credited with discovering the source behind the ubiquitous filler text. In seeing a sample of lorem ipsum, his interest was piqued by consectetur—a genuine, albeit rare, Latin word. Consulting a Latin dictionary led McClintock to a passage from De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (“On the Extremes of Good and Evil”), a first-century B.C. text from the Roman philosopher Cicero.

In particular, the garbled words of lorem ipsum bear an unmistakable resemblance to sections 1.10.32–33 of Cicero’s work, with the most notable passage excerpted below:

“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.”

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