The ‘Dummy’ Words Of Ethics



Does the "Lorem ipsum" text ring a bell? These 2 words are the ones that most have travelled across the web.


Many people around the world, especially designers, use it almost daily. These words are used as a filler or dummy text in initial design phases to force readers to look at the layout and font, before populating it with real content. The fact that it's in Latin doesn't interfere with the user's language or culture, allowing them to strictly focus on the design.


But why was this nonsensical text chosen over any other for this purpose? And why has it become so prevalent? Did you know it has a hidden powerful message?



Yes, it turns out that "Lorem ipsum" is actually full of meaning.


Used since the 1500s, this frequent text is actually a scrambled section from 45 BC when ancient Roman philosopher Cicero wrote: "De Finibus Bonorum Et Malorum", meaning "on the ends of good and evil" - a historical piece of work on ethics.


Cicero's text explores different schools of philosophy, such as Epicureanism and Stoicism. The specific "lorem ipsum" section is derived from a passage in which Cicero discusses pain and pleasure.


The word 'lorem' is abridged from the Latin word 'dolorem' (pain), so 'dolorem ipsum' translates to "pain itself."


The passage relates to hedonism, and how sometimes we do unpleasant things to reach pleasurable goals, and occasionally indulge in a pleasure that can incur painful consequences.


Cicero was one of history's most influential writers and was also considered by many the best orator who ever lived. Julius Caesar praised his achievements by saying "it is more important to have greatly extended the frontiers of the Roman spirit (ingenium) than the frontiers of the Roman empire". His influence in the politics of his time was so strong that he became a threat to many; Marcus Antonius named him "enemy of the state," and ordered his beheading. After cutting off his head, his executioners also cut off his eloquent hands, and it is believed that his tongue was also cut out and stabbed several times.


But Cicero managed to remain influential even after his death.


The way we think nowadays is ultimately grounded in Ciceronian ethics; his advice to "reject pleasures to secure other greater pleasures and endure pains to avoid worse pains" has surely become a truism.


It still remains unknown who made the modifications to the text, or exactly when, turning it into the gibberish of words we know today. But what's clear is that it was intentionally scrambled into nonsense to ensure it wouldn't be a distraction.


Even though Lorem Ipsum escalated in the hands of people who didn't know its meaning or history, Cicero remains as relevant as ever. Any designer who has been staring for hours at this encoded piece of history now knows that what they're actually looking at is a timeless piece of ethics and wisdom from a great man that has managed to live forever.


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