The Typographic Hub

Printers slang

3rd October 2010

Prints Past / Printers’ slang is as old as the profession itself

Printers’ slang is as old as the profession itself, and whilst we known little of the origins of the vocabulary of the press and composing rooms the language that has come down to us is certainly expressive.

Pie, the earliest of all printers’ slang, is short for printers’ pie, which since 1659, has meant unsorted or jumbled type; hell-box, the box containing unused type; fat, easy to compose, and lean, difficult to compose: the former also means profitable, the later unprofitable work. Antimony, type; sorts the character in a fount of type; out of sorts, a deficiency of material in the type-case, has since 1780 also meant unwell; squabble, is type that gets mixed up; sling type, to set or compose; devil, short for printer’s devil, a ‘handy boy’; pencil-shover, a journalist; brains, the paste with which a sub-editor sticks his cuttings together; eye-out of register, an inaccurate eye; put in pie, is to make a mess of thing or lead another astray; and chalk your pull, means things are on hold.