Coding Horror

programming and human factors

The Eternal Lorem Ipsum

If you've studied design at all, you've probably encountered Lorem Ipsum placeholder text at some point. Anywhere there is text, but the meaning of that text isn't particularly important, you might see Lorem Ipsum.

Tintin-lipsum

Most people recognize it as Latin. And it is. But it is arbitrarily rearranged and not quite coherent Latin, extracted from a book Cicero wrote in 45 BC. Here's the complete quote, with the bits and pieces that make up Lorem Ipsum highlighted.

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[ng] velit, sed quia non numquam [do] eius modi tempora inci[di]dunt, 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?

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus, qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti, quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint, obcaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa, qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga.

But what does it all mean? Here's an English translation with the same parts highlighted.

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?

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.

Of course the whole point of Lorem Ipsum is that the words aren't supposed to mean anything, so attempting to divine its meaning is somewhat … unsatisfying, perhaps by design. Lorem Ipsum is a specific form of what is generally referred to somewhat cheekily as "Greeking":

Greeking is a style of displaying or rendering text or symbols, not always from the Greek alphabet. Greeking obscures portions of a work for the purpose of either emphasizing form over details or displaying placeholders for unavailable content. The name is a reference to the phrase "Greek to me", meaning something that one cannot understand, so that it might as well be in a foreign language.

So when you need filler or placeholder text, you naturally reach for Lorem Ipsum as the standard. The theory is that, since it's unintelligible, nobody will attempt to read it, but instead focus on other aspects of the design. If you put readable text in the design, people might think the text is important to the design, that the text represents the sort of content you expect to see, or that the text somehow itself needs to be copyedited and updated and critiqued.

(Regular readers of this blog may remember that I am fond of using Alice in Wonderland in this manner, when I need a bit of text to demonstrate something in a post.)

Lorem-ipsum

However, not everyone agrees that relying on a standard boilerplate greeked placeholder text is appropriate, even going so far as to call for the death of Lorem Ipsum. I think it depends what you're trying to accomplish. I once noted that it's better to use real content to avoid Blank Page Syndrome, for example.

There are quite a few websites that helpfully offer up the classic Lorem Ipsum text in various eminently copy-and-pastable forms.

Classic Lorem Ipsum

Beyond that, if you just want a bunch of, uh, interesting text to fill an area, there a lot – and I mean a lot – of websites to choose from. So many in fact that I was a little overwhelmed trying to index them all. I've tried to broadly categorize the ones I did find, below. If you know of more, feel free to leave a comment and I'll update the list.

Novelty

Clever English Tricks

Literature

Professions

Social Networks

TV, Movies and Media

Possibly NSFW

Regional

This is a lot to go through. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd say Fillerati because it's all dignified and stuff. But I think truer to the spirit of Lorem Ipsum are definitely the homophonic transformations, which consistently blow my mind every time I attempt to read them. Isn't that the implied goal of any properly greeked text? You were one deliciously perverse professor of romance languages, Howard L. Chace.

In today's Pinteresting world, images are arguably more important than text. But what is the Lorem Ipsum of images? Is there even one? I guess you could just slap some Lorem Ipsum text in an image, but where is the fun in that? Anyway, there are also plenty of websites offering up placeholder images of various types to go along with your Lorum Ipsum placeholder text.

Images

I'm not sure the world needs any more Lorem Ipsum-alikes than we already have at this point. Like the market for ironic t-shirts, the Internet has ensured that our placeholder greeked text needs have not merely been met but vastly exceeded for the forseeable future. But after discovering all the creative things people have done with Lorem Ipsum, and text placeholders in general, it's sure tempting to dream yet another one up, isn't it?

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Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: http://twitter.com/codinghorror