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pied type

Started by Jeff Pye, September 12, 2006, 11:50:16 AM

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Jeff Pye

Could anyone explain the origin of the term (PI) for spilling type?


PI ...
A mathematician might deduce that the average number of letters in a case was 3'141'593  ;)
But honestly, no, I've never heard that term before.
Any of our native-english regulars got an idea?

;D Andy ;D

Steve Young

It's "pie" as in bake a pie ... a disorderly mess of (moveable) type. I think the true explanation is list in the midst of time I fear! One of the first words I was taught at the start of my comp apprenticeship ... also way back in the midst of time.

Dan Williams

Since Andy has broken out the textbook, I will add that PI has some pretty neat features. Area of circle is easy to get when you multiply PI by the circle's squared radius. PI is also represented by the rational ratio of 22/7. PI is an irrational real number.
Back to printing....In the U.S., loose sorts I believe are also referred to as "PI" On a linotype, for instance, the sort mats are called "PI" mats. They do not run in the magazine, but run through the distributer into a "PI" tray. I am not exactly sure about that vernacular though...its been awhile since I worked in the old shop. Sorts mats constitutes symbols, logotypes, odd characters, or mats that do not run in the normal main or auxiliary magazine configuration. With hand type, there are loose sorts, symbols and characters that do not come out of case, and correct me if I am wrong, are those not referred to as "PI"?
Maybe "PIED" started as a cynical reference to "loose" or unsorted "PI" type...anything out of, or apart from, the case. Speculation, here.


I just happened to google a bit, and came across these lines (written in 1992):

Now "shrdlu", which I believe has been used as a proofreader's notation
to indicate pied characters in typeset text, is gibberish.

"shrdlu" and "etaoin" we already discussed  ;) , but I noticed that the term "pied" here was applied to typeset text, not loose letters.

Dan Williams

But Andy, if the lines become pied ... they are no longer orderly or typeset  :-\

I checked my lino books, and yes the sorts tray on a linotype is called a pi stacker


the "pi stacker" ... might that p-i  have been an abbreviation for something?


Geez!! So there we were, at the dinner table...reading aloud from a book of word origins.  "Easy as pie..." came up; I said: "what does pied mean???"  We looked:  most usually "multi-colored."  So I, being a smartie..(and one who used to run a Chandler and Price letterpress...) said:  "I bet you don't know what "pied type is, do you??"  Of course, the guests all had to search out all sorts of dictionaries and word origin books and found NOTHING.  I ventured that maybe...I should get my knowledge down on paper; perhaps the world had forgotten about pied type!!!

For one last try, I went to the kitchen computer (don't we all have computers in our kitchens??) and googled "pied type"  BANG!!  This site came up.  Man!! what a hoot!!  What a trip down the old drain pipe of memory.

Congratulations are following in noble steps!!

Keep the faith, keep the movement going.

PS.  I write this in Minneapolis, MN...

I will drop in from time to time to relive the smell/taste of ink!!

Dave Hughes

Hi Steve, welcome to the forum.

You wouldn't be the same Steve King that worked at the South London Press in the 80s would you?
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Reminds me of a story about my dad as a linotype operator in the 40s in Arizona.
One of his fellow employees was about to get his picture in the paper for some reason or other.   Dad set the caption, and as a joke added "He was quoted as saying "etaoin shrdlu".    The make-up man saw it, laughed and passed it on.  The proofreader passed it along also.   In fact everyone passed it along and it appeared in the newspaper the next day without any changes!
Everyone at the newspaper thought it was hilarious - except the editor


When I was an apprentice compositor in Oxford in 1974 I set the word 'apple' in my stick. I then went to the compositor in charge of apprentices and showed him. While he was looking I knocked the type over in the stick and proudly announced that I had made apple pie. I will never forget the smack around the ear he gave me!


Perhaps it is related to "pie" as in "pied piper" and "magpie". This refers to patchwork multi-coloured raiment.

According to the Wiktionary entry for "pie" (1st etymology) these are all related—mixed type, the bird, the fruity/savoury baked good...

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