There’s An Ipsum For That

Placeholder of the Dead.

Do you like lipsum? Of course you do! Unless you don’t, wowsers; we’ll deal with you in a bit.

If this is all Greek to you, lipsum – short for lorem ipsum – is a Latin nonsense text used by typesetters and graphic designers as a placeholder when mocking up pages, if the actual text isn’t ready (surprisingly often). The process is called greeking. Of course!

As far as we know, lipsum has been around since the invention of the printing press, although the earliest proof anyone has dates back to the 1960s. Back then designers would use sheets of adhesive type, produced by Letraset; today, there are countless online generators of this simulacra. But the words are the same: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur…” and so on, for as long as needed.

For many years, everybody thought they were meaningless; ‘lorem’ isn’t even a Latin word. Sometime during the 1990s, however, professor Richard McClintock discovered the words in a sentence from Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum: “Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit …” It means, roughly, “there is no one who loves pain itself, simply because it is pain”, although self-cutters might disagree.

Meaning aside, lipsum seems harmless, but you know what people on the internet are like. Contrarians! Given a voice by the undiscriminating web, an anti-lipsum movement has sprung up, mostly in response to the web. On .netmagazine John McGarvey argues that lipsum is “a plague on web design, a massive obstacle to building truly great online experiences”. You’ll note that McGarvey is a web copywriter, not a designer; he may as well be a bricklayer arguing that architecture is a massive obstacle to building a house.

Over at Design Informer, however, a designer, Kyle Fielder, states that when you design with lipsum “you diminish the importance of the copy by lowering it to the same level as any other visual element”.

Both McGarvey and Fielder make good points, especially regarding content and web design: content is king. But content isn’t just words; it’s pictures and everything else. And these dudes miss the big picture: lipsum is a fallback, not a first step, and it’s been used for decades because it can be a very useful fallback, especially offline – a world that still exists.

Also, it can be fun. Just as content isn’t limited to words, lipsum is no longer limited to the same words. Enter bacon ipsum. Created in June this year, it’s a lipsum generator that produces flim-flam from types and cuts of meat instead of Latin. Definitely not kosher. But it started a trend.

Tuna ipsum, a “blatant rip of bacon ipsum”, came next, followed by veggie [sic] and vegan ipsum, with the latter also giving you the option to use Linnaean taxonomy, for that authentic gibberish look. And alcoholics, choose your poison: beer ipsum or, if you’re facing down a hellish deadline and your writer hasn’t submitted yet, maybe you want to hit the hard stuff with liquor ipsum.

These fauxlipsums fulfil to a greater or lesser degree the original remit of lipsum: to look like real text – with punctuation, paragraphs and appropriate capital letters – without distracting the ‘reader’ with meaningful words or sentences. Generators such as makeTEXT, Blind Text Generator and Fillerati take a more linear approach, offering randomised but readable passages from the literary canon. Arguably, their intelligibility means the resulting text is not technically lipsum, though. Arguably.

Also not technically lipsum is Andrew Bulhak’s postmodernism generator, which has been churning out meaningless essays since 2000, when it was created it as part of a Monash University research project recalling the Sokal hoax. But as no one does incomprehensible like the postmodernists, I’ll give it honorary status.

Pomo too highbrow for your promo? Try Matt Round’s text generator at Malevole.com, which uses TV theme song lyrics, and get bonus points for including the criminally under-remembered Ulysses 31. Fillerama, meanwhile, generates up to 20 pars of mumbo-jumbo cribbed from TV shows and movies including Doctor Who, Dexter, Star Wars, Monty Python, The Simpsons and Futurama.

"Vatican assassin warlocks. Boom. Print that, people."

Other generators get even more specific. Vatican Assassin is the inevitable Charlie Sheen ipsum, which is both readable and inscrutable, thanks to the bucket-o-bonkers the bi-winning F-18 swallowed earlier this year. The very slick-looking Samuel L Ipsum is as motherfucking self-explanatory as it is lucid, motherfucker, while Arnold Ipsum spews out a double-dutch jumble of all your favourite AHHNOLD quotes. I challenge you to read it without the accent.

The only surprising thing about Zombie Ipsum is that I haven’t yet found its vampire or werewolf nemesipsum. Oh, and you can wear your love of lipsum and the undead on your chest. It looks pretty schmick too, as you would expect with the braaaaiiins behind it including an illustrator.

There’s the subcultural ipsums: bogan, gangsta, hipster, fundy and Tea Party. And T’lipsum, for folk from Yorkshire, aye.

Nieman Journalism Lab’s journo ipsum uses catchphrases, buzzwords and bons mots beloved by hacks, “for all your nonsense-about-the-future-of-news needs”. Brian Haslanger, meanwhile, has produced a widget for a corporate ipsum that will holistically generate low-risk high-yield client-focused jargon with standardised core competencies.

HTML ipsum is exactly that, Twipsum – which turns your tweets into ipsum – was unavoidable and Duck Island’s greeking machine gives you a choice of hillbilly, marketing, technobabble and pseudo-German jabberwocky, among others. There’s even a visual ipsum: placekitten (and note the results when you combine textual and visual ipsums here and here).

So what’s missing? Personally, my collection won’t be complete until I have a solipsum (Epistemological reductio ad absurdum ontological dualism. Descartes metaphysical material world immaterial mind hypothesis! Gorgias of Leontini self-refuting idea…) and a Paul Keating Insult ipsum. Imagine the jiggery-pokery! I’m serious about the last one. Make it for me, scumbags!

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Comments

  1. mellygoround says:

    A new ipsum – Carl Sagan ipsum! http://saganipsum.com/

  2. mellygoround says:

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