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Lorem Ipsum Meaning: Why Your Design Has Dummy Text

Shaun Connell
December 26, 2022

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Maybe you've seen this passage before or something very much like it. You may have wondered, what is it? Is it some kind of famous quote? It looks Latin; does it come from the Bible, some ancient Greek texts, or maybe from some kind of philosopher? It has to mean something, because it's super common. It's so common it even has a name: Lorem Ipsum, after the first two words of the passage.

So what does it mean?

Absolutely nothing.

Okay, well, that's not quite true. The truth is, it's sort of Latin. It's Latin in the same sort of way that Pig Latin is English; it's Latin, but scrambled up. No one is quite sure where it was initially created, but some people can trace it as far back as the 1500s. Modern use, though, is a little different.

Lorem Ipsum has been in common use since about the 1960s. It's a corrupted version of Cicero's De finibus bonorum et malorum, "On the deeds of good and evil," a philosophical text. More importantly, it's intentionally corrupted so that it doesn't mean anything. It looks like Latin because it came from Latin, but it was picked because very few people actually read Latin; it looks like valid text, but it's not.

Why this text? It's Latin, which was the common printed tongue of the day, but it's not the most common and widely-recognized text. That text is the Bible. Why not remix the Bible? It would be sacrilegious, mostly. People back then took it way more seriously than we do now. Some scribe a few centuries ago took a millennia-old philosophical text, scrambled it up to use as a placeholder, and the rest is history.

What's the Purpose of Lorem Ipsum?

Solution Lorem Ipsum was created as a form of placeholder text.

Specifically, it uses the Latin or Roman alphabet, the same one we use in English, so it uses all of the same letters. It also has a similar sort of structure, with a mixture of short words and long words. It lacks easily-discerned patterns, and at a casual glance, it looks like it could be real content and real language.

What's the point? Well, it's unreadable nonsense, but it simulates what something might look like with real text in it. It exists to fill space with text but keeps that text from being distracting.

Purpose of Lorem Ipsum

Consider instead if you were to take a real sentence and just paste it in a bunch.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Notice how there are patterns here. You can see the repetition, and that repetition adds unwanted design elements to the page. Something more realistic, like Lorem Ipsum, doesn't have those patterns.

Placeholder text is used in templates, wireframes, and general design. It serves an important purpose of showing what a page will look like when text is filled in, but it prevents a viewer from judging a page based on what the text says because the text doesn't say anything. It allows the focus to be on the layout, the arrangement and placement of images, the choice of font and font size, the use of color, and other design elements.

In its original use in the 60s, Lorem Ipsum was used for print typesetting. A Lorem Ipsum page would be created to show how a page of print would look, to decide on the placement of images and the size of a headline, or other elements of design. Then, once the design was finalized, the actual text could be inserted, and the final page layout could be shown, proofed, and printed.

In the digital age, Lorem Ipsum serves a similar purpose for software templates and web design templates. It's used by everything from LaTeX to MS Word to WordPress.

Why Do Some People Hate Lorem Ipsum?

There's some controversy and dislike of Lorem Ipsum out there. Some people hate it. Why?

Solution Well, some people believe it promotes design over content. By focusing on design with placeholder text, there's no unity between the two. Design doesn't serve the purposes of the content (and content doesn't serve the purposes of the design) because they're created entirely separately.

That's a valid concern, but only in certain circumstances, I feel. Content and design are linked implicitly, and the people working on the design should know what kind of content they're going to be displaying, even if they don't have the specific content on hand. Besides, if you had one piece of content, designed an entire app around it, and then needed more content, you'd be unnecessarily restricted.

Lorem Ipsum Placeholder Text

Other people hate Lorem Ipsum because it's meaningless and because it's so commonly used. It's just one of those things where some people will hate anything they see too often and don't take a liking to, so there's not a lot to it.

There are also a few people out there who are just scared of foreign words and the uncertainty of what they mean. If they don't know what Lorem Ipsum is, suddenly seeing pages filled with this Latin-looking nonsense might be worrying. It's an easy thing to explain, but you might want to send this article over to any clients who don't know what Lorem Ipsum is, just to avoid any issues.

There's not really a valid reason to hate Lorem Ipsum, as far as I'm concerned. It serves a purpose, it's not meant to be permanent, and the objections against it are generally ill-founded. It's not like using it somehow devalues the content you eventually do publish, after all.

Are There Other Versions of Lorem Ipsum?

Of course! Over time, various people have decided to try to create their own versions of Lorem Ipsum for various reasons.

One example is this:

Li Europan lingues es membres del sam familie. Lor separat existentie es un myth. Por scientie, musica, sport etc, litot Europa usa li sam vocabular. Li lingues differe solmen in li grammatica, li pronunciation e li plu commun vocabules. Omnicos directe al desirabilite de un nov lingua franca: On refusa continuar payar custosi traductores.

At solmen va esser necessi far uniform grammatica, pronunciation e plu commun paroles. Ma quande lingues coalesce, li grammatica del resultant lingue es plu simplic e regulari quam ti del coalescent lingues. Li nov lingua franca va esser plu simplic e regulari quam li existent Europan lingues. It va esser tam simplic quam Occidental in fact, it va esser Occidental. A un Angleso it va semblar un simplificat Angles, quam un skeptic Cambridge amico dit me que Occidental es.

This passage is known as Li Europan lingues, and it's a form of placeholder text developed in 1933. One key difference here is that this passage uses a real language (or variation on language) called Occidental, and it has a real translation.

Li Europan lingues Translation

For people who don't know how to read or speak Occidental, this passage has the same effect as Lorem Ipsum; that is, a real-looking filler. However, to people who do know the language, it has meaning and loses that purpose.

There are other variations as well. Some of them are spins of English text (which, in my opinion, fail to serve the same purpose because the use of English words for an English audience is more distracting). Others use Latin or other languages, broken down into syllables and phonemes, to generate unique filler text.

Really, it comes down to the purpose of the filler text. The less you want the text itself to be in focus, the more you want non-native language text in that position. You want something that mimics the language structures of your dominant language but is as far from it as possible to avoid bias caused by what the text itself says.

Truthfully, you could take any blog post or article from the internet, run it through Google Translate to Latin or Spanish or French or whatever language none of your designers speak, and use that for the same purpose.

Should You Use Lorem Ipsum?

Yes, and here's why.

All of those cute Lorem Ipsum alternatives? They're unique, or more unique than Lorem Ipsum. That's fine if you want something unique, but there's one massive drawback.

They're harder to locate.  

Think about it; you have a website with a few hundred pages up on it, but you know there are a few pages with filler text still out there somewhere. How can you find them?

Using Lorem Ipsum

If you're using Lorem Ipsum, all you need to do is run a site search through all of your pages and search for the phrase "Lorem Ipsum." Any page using filler text will come up in that search, and you can easily fix it.

If you're using one of those goofy filler generators with office jargon or movie quotes or whatever, it becomes a lot harder to find those pages.

There's also the potential SEO impact. Lorem Ipsum is very clearly filler text, and Google won't penalize you for using it; it's a placeholder, and a page using it won't rank for anything, but it won't hurt your site. Filler text randomly generated from movie quotes, though, looks a lot more like the methods used to bypass email spam filters or make a piece of content look natural but actually is machine-generated. That is, it looks like spam meant to bypass filters and rank despite a lack of substance. There's a very thin line between mashing up a bunch of pop culture quotes and spinning blog posts, after all.

Why Does My Site Have Lorem Ipsum On It?

Lorem Ipsum shows up for two reasons.

The first is that you put it there as a placeholder to see what a page looks like with content on it, even though you don't actually have that content ready or available. You – or your web designer, app designer, graphic designer, or someone else on your team – put the placeholder text there for exactly that purpose: to be a placeholder.

Usually, the text is added like that for design, development, and testing, and once the design is finalized, the text is replaced with real content. You have to create this real content (or hire a writer to create it: check my job board for experts who can help!) and replace the filler text.

Inserting Lorem Ipsum Placeholder Text

The other reason why your site might have Lorem Ipsum on it – especially if you didn't put it there – is that whatever frameworks, tools, or software you're using did.

WordPress uses Lorem Ipsum as placeholder text for new websites. CSS frameworks often use it as a way to have dummy text to apply CSS styling to, so you can see what your styles would look like on text without the text hindering the evaluation. Various template designs in printing services or even in document editors like Microsoft Word use Lorem Ipsum as placeholders until you swap it out for real text.

In these cases, something you're using – and let's be honest, it's probably WordPress – used it as filler text on a page, and you haven't replaced it, possibly because you didn't notice or know about it ahead of time. This is common in cases where you set up a site that has system pages like a Privacy Policy that you haven't filled out, but the templates are there and populated.

Luckily, this placeholder text generally isn't going to do anything bad to your site except make people who find it think your site is unfinished. At worst, you might get a few people worrying about the quality of your business if you've left placeholders around or get an embarrassing email pointing it out to you.

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Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell has spent his entire career either working as a freelance writer or hiring freelance writers for his many successful publications. Shaun has learned the exact tricks of the trade to hire the perfect writer for almost any niche.

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