International Printing Museum

The A-Z of Odd Printers Jargon

Like many professions and communities, the world of printers comes with it’s own set of terms, phrases, and names that are specific to the printing trade. Some of them, like Uppercase and Lowercase, seeped into the larger culture (though few people actually know the origin of the terms uppercase and lowercase originates from the use of an upper case to store the Capitol Letters and a Lower case to stow the small letters). Other terms are rarely, if every, used anymore as the profession of printing moved into new technologies and the last generation of occupational hot metal printers dwindles. It’s a shame too because some of our favorite jargon really ought to be used more. 

Here’s some of the best and oddest from 1888’s

The Printer’s Vocabulary by Charles Thomas Jacobi






Compositors were thus termed by pressmen by way of retaliation for being called “pigs”





Type thickened at the feet through wear and tear in continual impression and improper planing down





A small printing office where common work is done, and labour is badly paid for, is generally thus described





When, owing to long standing or the prevalence of hot weather, the quoins of a forme get loose and the pages drop out of the chase





A size of printing paper, 30 x 23 inches; writing or drawing paper, 28 x 23 inches; brown paper, 34 x 24 inches





An old term for a rapid setter of type





An old term applied to compositors – the reason being obvious





A receptacle for battered or broken letters – in olden times a boot was used





A compositor behindhand with his copy, and keeping his companions waiting, is thus described





To throw or gamble with quadrats as with dice





When rollers on a machine fret against each other they are said to “kiss”





Slang term sometimes used by printers for giving or obtaining credit – applied more particularly to that obtained at public houses or beer-shops





A printer’s slang term for skulking or playing about





A slang term frequently used by printers – an abbreviation for “no fly,” to feign ignorance or indifference





An appellation for an old pressman in bygone days





Pressman are thus denominated by compositors in order to annoy them (thus a press room is sometimes called a pigsty)





To run out or fill up a line with quadrats





A slang term for a compositor who works at a lower rate of wages than that generally recognized in a particular locality





An old term applied to drink – or drinking around the imposing stone in order to celebrate some auspicious occasion.





A term of contempt for a man who professes to work both at case and press.





Used by pressmen to indicate the movement of the upper part of the press exercised by the bar-handle





A corruption of the word “divisorium,” an article to hold copy on the case





The printer’s annual dinner.





Applied generally to the printing of old block-books





A cheap kind of coloured wove paper, but, anomalously, blue in shade





A short term for the zincograph 


< Return to Blog