It probably comes as no surprise that most employees at Ambit would consider themselves printing “geeks.” Printing has its own language–we speak it fluently and try to keep our customers from having to learn too much of it themselves! But today we come to you with a fun post on how some terms you use in everyday life originated within the print industry.
We invite you to the honorary club of printing geeks today and hope we’ll help you in your next round of trivia!
Uppercase and Lowercase
You learned this in grade school: capital letters are uppercase and all other letters are considered lowercase. But what do cases have to do with anything?
In fact, these terms originate from drawers–or cases, as they’re known in printing–that were a part of the printing process back when metal letters were used in printing presses to lay out printed materials. The printing industry has always allowed for a wide variety of fonts, and these fonts were kept in separate drawers. As a typesetter laid out the letters, they’d have access to two drawers of the same font: one case of the capital letters and another of the lowercase letters.
The typesetter would place the capital letters up top and the smaller letters closer to them, leading to the terms, quite literally, upper and lowercase. (Source)
If you work in marketing or PR, you’ve heard this term often. Simply, it’s that standard information about an organization or event that is added to press releases, promotional materials and the like. The word has its origins in journalism and print, dating back to the 1800’s and likely came about based on its meaning around sturdiness or reusability. From the 1890s to the 1950s, publicity items were cast or stamped in metal ready for the printing press, and distributed to the newspapers as filler. A much more elaborate and expensive version of today’s press release!
The largest supplier of boilerplate to newspapers was Western Union. (Source)
Mind Your P’s and Q’s
We’re bringing you back to your childhood again. Surely you recall your mother, grandmother or teacher reminding you to “Mind your P’s and Q’s” when you were acting up. But how did letters translate into manners? There are a variety of theories around the term’s origins, and one belongs solely to printers. The phrase goes back all the way to the 1700s.
Typesetters would need to pay special attention to their p’s and q’s, since the letters are interchangeable if flipped and since typesetters work backwards. No one’s ever been able to prove the connection, so check out a few other theories around the phrase.
Out of Sorts
This delightfully pleasant way of calling someone cranky is a phrase many of us use without a second thought. But–you guessed it!–it has its origins in the printing industry. Printers would call the individual metal characters in each of his boxes (or cases, as we’ve learned), the sorts–so called because they’ve been arranged into their own compartments, with all of one kind together.
Imagine the mindset of a printer who ran out of a sort during a composition and you’ll get a better grip on the term. (Source)