Thursday, September 30, 2010

What is "Lorem Ipsum"?

Have you noticed that when you look at a sample blog or website template, it often has a string of unknown words beginning with "Lorem Ipsum"?  Here is an example:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing 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.

It looks like Latin, doesn't it?  Well that's what I thought too!

The truth is, that it's actually nonsense words based on a latin text by a guy called Cicero (who wrote about the purpose of good and evil), but with words stripped out, and sometimes other words added.  You can find the details at Wikipedia.

The point of this is to demonstrate how the text will look, without distracting the viewer with meaningful words.  This technique has been used in typesetting since the 1960's  and possibly since the 1500's, when the printing press (and typesetting) first came into being.

Friday, September 3, 2010


I was updating my Avast Anti-Virus when my daughter came by.  She noticed the word Avast because she had just spent 10 days on a sailing ship, so she asked me if I knew what Avast means.

As it turns out, Avast is a very suitable name for an Anti-Virus program, as it means "Stop That!".

The word came From the Dutch "houd vast", meaning “hold fast”.  This became hou'vast in general usage, which sounds like Avast.  But how did the Dutch word hou'vast become the English word Avast?

The word originated in the 1600's.  During that century the Dutch were a major force on the high seas, challenging the Spanish and Portuguese, and sailing all over the globe.  English sailors would have picked up the word from their Dutch counterparts in many ports, and also from contact during the Anglo-Dutch naval wars which began in the second half of that century and continued on and off for over a hundred years.

I was able to find out why the creators of Avast Anti-Virus, named their product Avast.  They wanted a meaningful word beginning with the letters AV, and Avast was a good fit.  Being in land-locked Czechoslovakia, I guess they did not pick up the word in daily usage!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is Castor Oil made from Beavers?

Sometimes the search for meaning goes astray...

My daughter has a cute toy from Canada, a "canned beaver".  As with many Canadian products, the label is written in English and French, and so it also says "castor en boite" which obviously means "canned beaver".

Well I never knew what castor oil was, since it's one of those things you read about in old stories but nobody ever uses nowadays, but it does have a reputation for tasting foul.  So I put 2 and 2 together (tentatively) and thought "oh no, they used to make that stuff out of beavers, horrible!".

That awful thought ran around in my mind for a while, but I finally had the chance to check it out on Wikipedia, and I'm very relieved to know that Castor Oil is extracted from the seeds of the Castor plant.

So is there a connection between castor oil and beavers?  Surprisingly, there is!  According to Wikipedia, "The common name "castor oil" probably comes from its use as a replacement for castoreum, a perfume base made from the dried perineal glands of the beaver (castor in Latin).".

Monday, August 30, 2010


The word jackpot is loaded with excitement, triumph and promise.  The word is used in every day language.  You can hit the jackpot in just about any situation in life, not just in a poker game or on the slot machines.

So where does that word come from?  Why jack, and why pot?

I looked around the internet and found that word originated in the 1860's when poker was still evolving from a 20-card game mostly played by crooks, cheats and hustlers into it's more modern form.  Someone created a rule that you could not open the betting around the poker table unless you had two jacks, or better.  After that, the cards were dealt and if nobody else could top the two jacks, the person who held them won the pot, hence jackpot!  Not quite as interesting as I'd hoped...