Newsletter 22_Get the inside track

COMPRESS.dsl: Newsletter 22 : Get the inside track - horse "speaking"

Words do matter 

Hellooooo there

We’ve produced an extremely varied set of publications for clients this month, ranging from a guidance note on integrating mental health and psychosocial support into peacebuilding, to an enormous corporate annual report on precious stones, to reports on the illegal mining of sand in both Morocco and Kenya.

Whatever the topic or the length of the publication, the one element that is non-negotiable is the quality of the editing. No matter how stunning the design or how flashy the glossy finish – without a well-thought-out structure, clear grammar and sensitive wording, the most meaningful story in the world can fall flat. Editing matters. Quality matters. Words matter.

Commonly used phrases that originate from old-fashioned printing

Below are some interesting words and phrases that we use every day, and that originate in the printing industry. Who knew that ‘cliché’ and ‘typecast’ were actually terms in the printing press?


This now means a widely held but oversimplified idea of a particular type of person or thing. Its origin is a single metal plate that was cast from a mould of set type. The system of stereotyping was developed to save the typesetter from having to reset the page for each reprint. This also freed up limited typesetting materials. Whenever a published piece became popular enough for multiple reprints it would justify the higher costs of stereotyping.


This now means a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. But cliché is the word for stereotyping in French. However, instead of casting entire pages from metal, the French would cast commonly used phrases which would then be set among other freestanding letters. These phrases were so frequently used that they became clichés. The word itself is an onomatopoeia in that it’s the French verb for click, the sound made when metal was struck to create plates.


This means assigning an actor repeatedly to the same type of role, as a result of the appropriateness of their appearance or previous success in such roles. The word comes from the process of shaping metal by pouring it in molten form into a mould and then letting it cool. Type was made this way, hence, ‘type-casting’ or re-creating the same product from the same mould. Additionally, the same metal shaping method is also where the term ‘to fit a mould’ comes from.


Today we use this expression to mean to produce a strong effect on one. This phrase is often qualified with an adjective such as good, bad, strong, or the like. The words ‘impressive’, ‘impression’ and ‘impressionable’ have the same Latin root, imprimere, which means to ‘press into or upon’ or ‘stamp’. The term originates from the early 15th Century, directly from printing.


This is a comparatively young phrase. It was coined in the days of phototypesetting in the second half of the 20th century before the introduction of desktop publishing. Before desktop publishing, the text columns were already created with (phototypesetting) machines, but the make-up or ‘paste-up’ of the pages for printing was usually still done by hand. Columns, images, lines and even individual words had to be cut with scissors and scalpels to be moved to the right place and a glue (‘paste’) was used to have all parts stick in place and allow further corrections, until the finished layout could be photographed to be transferred onto an offset printing plate. Even though scalpels and adhesives are no longer necessary with digital type, the phrase ‘cut and paste’ is still in use.


These commonly used terms go back to the print shop tradition of having separate type cases for one typeface in one size – one case for the small letters and one for the capital letters. The case with the capital letters was put on top – so it was literally the ‘upper case’, and the case with the small letters was put below that, so it was the ‘lower case’.

Picture and diagram of a printers tray

Sources: 5 Phrases That Originated From Printing | StevensIS; Words and phrases in common use which originated in the field of typography – Journal – Typography.Guru


Finally, for the lexophiles 

We are fascinated by words – and thought we’d introduce a small section into our newsletter for readers who suffer from the same condition.

These words are from John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a website he has been running since 2009. His aim is to compile a lexicon for feelings and emotions we all experience but don’t yet have a word for.

Sonder: the realisation that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.

Énouement: the bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.

Altschmerz: Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties that you’ve been gnawing on for years.

And my favourite, for this time of year in the Cape:

Chrysalism: The amniotic tranquillity of being indoors during a thunderstorm.


Stable rest

COMPRESS.dsl is taking a week’s winter rest from 25 to 29 July this year. We normally close for just the end-of-year break, but we have all agreed that working 49 weeks without a break is a little excessive. We shall manage our ongoing projects around that week’s rest, and be back in the saddle and ready to tackle the rest of the year on 1 August.

How can we help you?

Please do < contact us > for a free quotation for assistance with translation, copy-editing, graphic design, layout or proofreading of any of your corporate publications. Have a look below to see how we can help you with your next project. We can work with any sensible budget or timeline, and are keen to reach out especially to those who need our help during these exceptional times.







We would love to hear how you’re doing.
Please drop us a message.
082 787 5555


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