Lorem ipsum: ‘Placeholder’ text actually means something, sort of

jarvis-writer copy“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet” etc. etc. is used by publishers and designers as ‘placeholder’ text while working out a layout before the actual text is ready or just to rough out what a page or book should look like. Even some word processing programs (Adobe InCopy, for example) provide a Lorem ipsum placeholder text option.

“Lorem ipsum,” which has been used since the 16th century, has been thought to be fake Latin and is so jumbled, it’s almost … Greek (as in, “It’s Greek to me.”) But Nick Richardson of the London Review of Books recently reviewed its origins and revealed that “Lorem ipsum” actually sort of means something.

“The 16th-century printer who came up with it got there by mangling Cicero’s ‘De finibus bonorum et malorum,’ an exposition of Stoicism, Epicureanism and the Platonism of Antiochus of Ascalon,” Richardson wrote. “Though most of the metaphysical subtlety has been wrung out, sense hasn’t completely: The text is haunted, as Derrida might have put it, by the piece of writing it once was.”

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nam hendrerit nisi sed sollicitudin pellentesque. Nunc posuere purus rhoncus pulvinar aliquam. Ut aliquet tristique nisl vitae volutpat. Nulla aliquet porttitor venenatis. Donec a dui et dui fringilla consectetur id nec massa. Aliquam erat volutpat. Sed ut dui ut lacus dictum fermentum vel tincidunt neque. Sed sed lacinia lectus. Duis sit amet sodales felis. Duis nunc eros, mattis at dui ac, convallis semper risus. In adipiscing ultrices tellus, in suscipit massa vehicula eu.

He learned that by asking Cambridge postgraduate Jaspreet Singh Boparai to attempt a translation.

Rrow itself, let it be sorrow; let him love it; let him pursue it, ishing for its acquisitiendum. Because he will ab hold, unless but through concer, and also of those who resist. Now a pure snore disturbeded sum dust. He ejjnoyes, in order that somewon, also with a severe one, uniess of life. May a cusstums offficer somewon nothing of a poison-filled. Until, from a twho, twho chaffinch may also pursue it, not even a lump. But as twho, as a tank; a proverb, yeast; or else they tinscribe nor. Yet yet dewlap bed. Twho may be, let him love fellows of a polecat. Now amour, the, twhose being, drunk, yet twhitch and, an enclosed valley’s always a laugh. In acquisitiendum the Furies are Earth; in (he takes up) a lump vehicles bien.

“It’s like extreme Mallarmé, or a Burroughsian cut-up, or a paragraph of Finnegans Wake,” Richardson commented. “Bits of it have surprising power: The desperate insistence on loving and pursuing sorrow, for instance, that is cheated out of its justification – an incomplete object that has been either fished for, or wished for.”

Sal Robinson, an editor at Melville House, commented that the translation has “an obscure beauty all its own,” adding, “It’s good to know that this fragment of gently surrealist narrative has been serving printers for so long, instead of discovering, for instance, that we were using a block of legalese or Roman business correspondence.”

Meanwhile, Alison Flood of the Guardian, interviewed Boparai who said that his “basic challenge was to make this text precisely as incoherent in English as it is in Latin – and to make it incoherent in the same way”.

“The absurdity of this content left me serenely unperturbed.” — Jaspreet Singh Boparai

So, Boparai said, “the Greek ‘eu’ in Latin became the French ‘bien’ in my translation, and the ‘-ing’ ending in ‘lorem ipsum’ seemed best rendered by an ‘-iendum’ in English.”

He continued: “I could only do this by steadfastly refusing to see the wood for the trees, and faithfully reproducing every error, and every minute instance of ‘What the fuck does this mean?’

“When you spend eight hours a day reading Renaissance Latin texts you get used to elaborate Ciceronian syntax that makes no sense whatsoever, and so the absurdity of this content left me serenely unperturbed.”~TM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: