Boilerplate – heavy piece of sheet iron, later steel, used in steam boiler construction.
Boilerplate – generic text in a contract or policy, any text the same from document to document.

How words get associated facsinates me. How does a piece of sheet metal equal generic text? I didn’t know.

So to find out we go to the late 1800s newspaper business and a company called Western Newspaper Union. Their idea was to make available national and international news that a small local paper would find hard, expensive, or impossible to gather. Thus the birth of syndicated news. Western would gather and typeset the national and international stories and distribute to their subscribers the plates to fit the local printing press. Then the local would print their papers with the syndicated news from these plates and the local news and advertising from their own plates. All the subscribers to Western got the same plates, therefore the papers printed the same text.

See where we’re going here?

A local paper set their copy into a soft alloy plate. Western plates had to be shipped all over so their plates were harder and heavier to withstand shipping. Ergo the slang ‘boilerplate’ came to mean the heavier Western plates and so by extension to mean the identical text printed from those plates

Though typesetting and printing is all computerized today the terminology remains.

In the future I’ll look at filmmaking terms and stagecraft terms.


One Response to “Boilerplate”

  1. Joe Fusco Says:

    What a great lesson! True, fascinating, and nice to learn something new.

    “Leading” is another great term leftover from an earlier era of typesetting — for the width of lead inserted between lines of set type.

    Even “typesetting” is a remnant word.

    Thanks, Paul, for commenting on my blog earlier.

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