Lorem Ipsum or how Cicero never met any masochists

I’ve been reading Lauren Ipsum, which is sort of a Phantom Tollbooth meets computer science sort of book, in which you learn about round robin transfers, are attacked by a pack of jargon, and meet a traveling salesman. The title got me to thinking that I’d see the Lorem Ipsum text in a lot of places (default icon text of a text file in Linux, icon of Notepad++, etc.) but I didn’t actually know what it was.

The basic purpose of the Lorem Ipsum text is to provide a dummy text for showing the layout of a type-setting, column format, etc. It’s been around since about the 1960’s but was popularized in computers in the 1980’s by the Aldus corporation. You all have probably heard of the phrase “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog“, a pangram or sentence containing all of the letters of the alphabet. The lazy dog phrase has been used for years to show all of the various letters of a font (and has been the way I’ve tested a keyboard on new computers or ones that have been recently dropped). While good for fonts, “lazy dog” doesn’t have a lot of variation in it’s appearance and when repeated over and over again in a layout looks a lot like “No Beer and No TV make Homer something something”.

Turns out there are a lot of variations of the Lorem Ipsum text but they all come from approximately the same source, Cicero’s tome On the Ends of Goods and Evils (De finibus bonorum et malorum for all you Latin junkies out there). The generated text is typically nonsense, either in  Latin or in English, taking bits of phrases and scrambling them together to look like natural text. Lorem is actually a truncation of Dolorem, which may have originated in a 1914 translation of the Cicero text which starts the word on one page with “Do” and starts the next page with “lorem ipsum”.

You can actually generate both the “lazy dog” text and the “lorem ipsum” text easily in Word 2007, 2010 and 2013. Type the following into a new Word document and press enter:

=lorem()

This will generate a three paragraph, three sentence variant of the Lorem Ipsum text. To get something longer, just put values into the function like so:

=lorem(p, l)

With p equaling the number of paragraphs and l equaling the number of sentences (not actual page lines as the Microsoft Knowledge Base article might suggest).

“Lazy dog” can be obtained with the following

=rand.old()

And some random text from the Microsoft Help file can be placed with this:

=rand()

The main thrust of the Lorem Ipsum passage from Cicero is the following “Neither is there anyone who loves, pursues or desires pain itself because it is pain” (thanks Wikipedia for the translation). Obviously Cicero lived in a much simpler time. I guess you could look at masochists and say that they are actually following Cicero’s principle of obtaining pleasure after toil and pain, but I think it might be a bit of a stretch. Still Cicero seems like my kind of guy when he says “To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it?” Maybe some of you are saying that exercise creates endorphins and improves your mood and alertness, but you still can’t avoid the laborious part.

BTW, A value of =lorem(100, 100) will get you a NaNoWriMo text in about two seconds.

For those of you really in the mood for some 1st century philosophy, here’s a great scanned text of the Lorem Ipsum book I found with the original Latin and English on opposite pages.

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1 Comment

Filed under Trube On Tech

One response to “Lorem Ipsum or how Cicero never met any masochists

  1. ‘“Neither is there anyone who loves, pursues or desires pain itself because it is pain” Obviously Cicero lived in a much simpler time.’

    Best thing I’ve read all day. 😀

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