Words and Phrases That Derived from Printing

19th June 2018

Printing, in some form, dates back centuries. We’ve spoken before about the history of printing, so we’re not going to re-run that here. Instead, we’re taking a look at the impact of printing on language, in the form of words and phrases that have derived from the printing process.


Hot off the press

We’re starting with the one that’s most obviously got a link with the world of printing. A term that has come to mean quick, or recently reported, once started out with far more literal origins. The “heat” referred to the way Linotype machines printed in molten metal; by melting down lead casts, type was able to cast there and then.

Uppercase and lowercase

While we understand uppercase and lowercase to simply refer to lettering being in capitals or not, the terms used to be a far more literal representation of how a printing press looked. Capitals were on the top (or the “upper case”), with the lowercase letters below them. 17th Century printing presses didn’t have shift keys, with 2 variations of each letter instead being necessary.



A stereotype was initially a frame, used to produce an identical type. Plates were set to replicate a previously created type, and type could be produced en masse. This way of doing things made popular books a little easier for the printers to cope with – unless the piece of literature was particular popular, the stereotype wasn’t required.

It’s easy to see how stereotype has come to mean “generic model” from these beginnings.



Similarly to the point above, cliché is derived from a model type, used at a printing press. Instead of plates being used, molds were created for commonly-used phrases in one block. Again, clichés were primarily used to save time and improve efficiency.


Make an impression

Job interview? Make a good first impression, they always tell you. Why, though, phrase it in such a way? Well, the origins of the term come from the Latin verb, imprimere, for which the nearest translation to English is probably “imprint”. Thinking about it in as literal a way as possible, making an imprint implies making a permanent mark, hence “making a lasting impression”.



“Ditto”, as well as being the name of a Pokemon, today means “the same as before”, repeating something that’s already been said. Interestingly, though, the origins of this word lie in a company’s name; a duplicating machine from DITTO, Inc used a single set of quotation marks (the current shorthand abbreviation for “ditto”).
Clearly, there are plenty of terms that we use in everyday life that originated in the world of printing. There are plenty more, too, and too many to include in one blog post, unfortunately!