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HEDONIST ROOTS

Until recently, the prevailing view assumed lorem ipsum was born as a nonsense text. “It's not Latin, though it looks like it, and it actually says nothing,” Before & After magazine answered a curious reader, “Its ‘words’ loosely approximate the frequency with which letters occur in English, which is why at a glance it looks pretty real.” As Cicero would put it, “Um, not so fast.” The placeholder text, beginning with the line “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit”, looks like Latin because in its youth, centuries ago, it was Latin. Richard McClintock, a Latin scholar from Hampden-Sydney College, is credited with discovering the source behind the ubiquitous filler text. In seeing a sample of lorem ipsum, his interest was piqued by consectetur—a genuine, albeit rare, Latin word. Consulting a Latin dictionary led McClintock to a passage from De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (“On the Extremes of Good and Evil”), a first-century B.C. text from the Roman philosopher Cicero.

REMIXING A CLASSIC

So how did the classical Latin become so incoherent? According to McClintock, a 15th century typesetter likely scrambled part of Cicero's De Finibus in order to provide placeholder text to mockup various fonts for a type specimen book.
It's difficult to find examples of lorem ipsum in use before Letraset made it popular as a dummy text in the 1960s, although McClintock says he remembers coming across the lorem ipsum passage in a book of old metal type samples. So far he hasn't relocated where he once saw the passage, but the popularity of Cicero in the 15th century supports the theory that the filler text has been used for centuries.
And anyways, as Cecil Adams reasoned, “[Do you really] think graphic arts supply houses were hiring classics scholars in the 1960s?” Perhaps. But it seems reasonable to imagine that there was a version in use far before the age of Letraset.

INTERPRETING NONSENSE

Don't bother typing “lorem ipsum” into Google translate. If you already tried, you may have gotten anything from "NATO" to "China", depending on how you capitalized the letters. The bizarre translation was fodder for conspiracy theories, but Google has since updated its “lorem ipsum” translation to, boringly enough, “lorem ipsum”.
One brave soul did take a stab at translating the almost-not-quite-Latin. According to The Guardian, Jaspreet Singh Boparai undertook the challenge with the goal of making the text “precisely as incoherent in English as it is in Latin - and to make it incoherent in the same way”. As a result, “the Greek 'eu' in Latin became the French 'bien' [...] and the '-ing' ending in 'lorem ipsum' seemed best rendered by an '-iendum' in English.”

DIGITAL IPSUM

The decade that brought us Star Trek and Doctor Who also resurrected Cicero—or at least what used to be Cicero—in an attempt to make the days before computerized design a little less painstaking.
The French lettering company Letraset manufactured a set of dry-transfer sheets which included the lorem ipsum filler text in a variety of fonts, sizes, and layouts. These sheets of lettering could be rubbed on anywhere and were quickly adopted by graphic artists, printers, architects, and advertisers for their professional look and ease of use.
Aldus Corporation, which later merged with Adobe Systems, ushered lorem ipsum into the information age with its desktop publishing software Aldus PageMaker. The program came bundled with lorem ipsum dummy text for laying out page content, and other word processors like Microsoft Word followed suit. More recently the growth of web design has helped proliferate lorem ipsum across the internet as a placeholder for future text—and in some cases the final content (this is why we proofread, kids).

DESIGN OR (DIS)CONTENT

Among design professionals, there's a bit of controversy surrounding the filler text. Controversy, as in Death to Lorem Ipsum.
The strength of lorem ipsum is its weakness: it doesn't communicate. To some, designing a website around placeholder text is unacceptable, akin to sewing a custom suit without taking measurements. Kristina Halvorson notes:

FORM OVER FUNCTION

So when is it okay to use lorem ipsum? First, lorem ipsum works well for staging. It's like the props in a furniture store—filler text makes it look like someone is home. The same Wordpress template might eventually be home to a fitness blog, a photography website, or the online journal of a cupcake fanatic. Lorem ipsum helps them imagine what the lived-in website might look like. Second, use lorem ipsum if you think the placeholder text will be too distracting. For specific projects, collaboration between copywriters and designers may be best, however, like Karen McGrane said, draft copy has a way of turning any meeting about layout decisions into a discussion about word choice. So don't be afraid to use lorem ipsum to keep everyone focused. One word of caution: make sure your client knows that lorem ipsum is filler text. You don't want them wondering why you filled their website with a foreign language, and you certainly don't want anyone prematurely publishing it.