What is Shadow Work and How Do You Start?

Show Work For Beginners

Whether a medieval typesetter chose to garble a well-known (but non-Biblical—that would have been sacrilegious) text, or whether a quirk in the 1914 Loeb Edition inspired a graphic designer, it’s admittedly an odd way for Cicero to sail into the 21st century.

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).

How To Start Shadow Work?

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.

How Shadow Work Can Help You Thrive

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.”

Conclusion

As an alternative theory, (and because Latin scholars do this sort of thing) someone tracked down a 1914 Latin edition of De Finibus which challenges McClintock’s 15th century claims and suggests that the dawn of lorem ipsum was as recent as the 20th century. The 1914 Loeb Classical Library Edition ran out of room on page 34 for the Latin phrase “dolorem ipsum” (sorrow in itself). Thus, the truncated phrase leaves one page dangling with “do-”, while another begins with the now ubiquitous “lorem ipsum”.

Whether a medieval typesetter chose to garble a well-known (but non-Biblical—that would have been sacrilegious) text, or whether a quirk in the 1914 Loeb Edition inspired a graphic designer, it’s admittedly an odd way for Cicero to sail into the 21st century.

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