or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, March 28, 2005

Pig Latin

I'd dreamed about it, but I thought I'd never see it. Until yesterday! Until the Sunday edition of the Halifax (N.S.) Daily News, when there it was, in a photo caption above an article about how women can avoid gaining weight just before their wedding:

LOREM IPSUM DOLOR: Bride-to-be Kristie Kauffman (left) works out 10 weeks before her nuptials to Jon Seale (far right), in the doorway) in April. Kauffman is working with personal trainer before the big day.

It isn't the clumsy extra parenthesis I had been waiting to see, and it isn't the awkward lack of an article or a pronoun before "personal trainer". It's Lorem ipsum dolor.

Yes, it's Latin, of a sort, but it's unintentionally there, because it's nearly meaningless. It's filler--dummy text you use to replace something you intend to write later, or to mock up an empty page so you can see what it will look like when it's full of text. You could simply copy a paragraph of English-language text and paste it repeatedly, but it can be hard to see layout in terms of design when looking at a page of readable text: the content of the words is powerfully distracting, and so filling a page design with lorem ipsum (as it's usually called) is the perfect solution--it looks like language, but it's content-free and therefore neutral. Many word-processing programs allow you to fill empty space with lorem ipsum; what probably happened in the Daily News is that someone marked the space with dummy text, meaning to write the caption head later, and simply forgot to do so. (Perhaps either the writer or the photographer had written the photo caption but not the caption head.)

It did occur to me that the passage wasn't accidental, because the subject of the text it's taken from is pain for the sake of pain. There are two problems with this theory, though; first, it isn't correct Latin but a bastardized version of the original text, and second, how many readers would know any of this? So the theory may safely be discarded, I think. Lorem ipsum dolor was printed in error, and I'm delighted to finally see it in print. It's the sort of thing proofreaders and typesetters dream about, believe it or not.

If your word-processing software won't generate lorem ipsum, you can always go here and crank out as much as you need, and maybe Paypal the guy a few bucks if you use the generated text.


Blogger Tony Pius said...

I know just what you mean. It's exciting to spot these things in the wild.

A couple of years ago, shortly before they changed to their current layout, the L.A. Times' Calendar section would go to interior pages with a single bold word and an explanatory subhead. For instance, "see Pratchett page E7" would be matched on page E7 with "Pratchett: English Novelist Appears At Vromans" or somesuch.

One day, an interior-page article had the header:

Jumpword: Header Here Header Here Header Here Header

I mounted it on my office door like a trophy.

Monday, March 28, 2005 4:54:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I know just what you mean. I have a friend, a journalist, who collects mistakes as if they were butterflies, pinned to her corkboard. Her specialty is headlines, which are fun because you'd think they'd be glaringly obvious in their thirty-six-point Helvetica Boldness.

My all-time favourite happened when I was working at the Halifax Daily News (in which the lorem ipsum occurred). Luckily, the page in question never passed under my eyes, or I'd never be able to live down the shame. If I remember correctly, the front-page story was about a family that narrowly escaped being killed in a house fire, and the headline read something along the lines of


We were all very pleased that the fleas were home again.

Thursday, March 31, 2005 8:24:00 AM  

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