Friday, May 26, 2006

Lorem ipsum: say what?

Q. I'm getting married later this year, and the shop which will print our invitations gave me a book of typeface samples. Over and over, some kind of foreign phrase shows up as an illustration. I've copied it to send to you: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipscing elit, diam nonnumy eiusmod tempor incidunt ut labore et dolo. What language is this, and what does it say?

A. First of all, congratulations on your impending wedding. I trust that your printer will allow you to substitute your own names and information for the Latin sample. This is a printer's custom which goes back hundreds of years. Some unknown typesetter took a portion of Cicero's de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (On the Purposes of Good & Evil), scrambled the sentences a bit, and started using it as text for a type sample book. The line now is jumbled into nonsense, but the original sentence from which it came spoke about the fact that no one pursues pain directly because it is desirable; it is always a by-product or consequence of some other pursuit.

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