Have you ever visited a website that’s under construction and seen a jumble of Latin text? Most likely, what you saw was Lorem Ipsum filler text.

Used in newspaper and magazine publishing, typesetting, and web design, Lorem Ipsum serves as a temporary placeholder for text before the final copy is inserted. Although Lorem Ipsum consists of Latin words, it’s an example of "Greeking"—making text unreadable to signify that it’s a placeholder. Lorem Ipsum is less distracting for designers when they're trying to get a visual feel for a piece of text, and copyeditors are less likely to mistake Lorem Ipsum for the final text, lest they accidentally publish a document that still contains it. Sometimes, though, editors miss a block of Lorem Ipsum text and it gets published, as it did for an article in this Singapore newspaper.

In the 1980s, the general public became exposed to Lorem Ipsum when the filler text appeared on several desktop publishing and word processing templates such as PageMaker. However, Lorem Ipsum isn't new. In the 1500s—relatively soon after the invention of the printing press—typesetters first began using random Latin text for mock-ups. Amazingly, the Lorem Ipsum text that made its way into computer publishing software in the 20th century is a version of what was used in the 1500s.

Latin scholar Dr. Richard McClintock discovered that this common text is in fact a scrambled section from ancient Roman philosopher Cicero’s De Finibus Bonorum Et Malorum ("On The Ends of Good and Evil"). "This text has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since some printer in the 1500s took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book," McClintock told Before & After, a publishing magazine, in 1994. "[I]t has survived not only four centuries of letter-by-letter resetting but even the leap into electronic typesetting, essentially unchanged." (But he later told The Straight Dope that he hasn’t been able to find the old type sample that contained the phrase "lorem ipsum," so the practice might be only a few decades old.)

Written in 45 BCE, 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.

As it appears on design templates today, however, Lorem Ipsum is not taken verbatim from Cicero’s text. Rather, the text is jumbled so that it’s meaningless: even if someone knows Latin, they won’t be distracted by the text. The word lorem is abridged from the Latin word dolorem (pain), so dolorem ipsum translates to "pain itself."

Here's a comparison of Lorem Ipsum filler text and the original Cicero source, with English translation:

Standard Lorem Ipsum Filler Text:

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.

The original Cicero passage:

Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem.

English translation:

Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure.

If you’re bored with the standard Lorem Ipsum, you can always use funnier alternatives such as Bacon Ipsum, Nietzsche Ipsum, or Hipster Ipsum.