Out Of Sorts


A typesetter's tantrum, as I imagine it

I barely slept at all last night, so I imagine I am gonna crash pretty hard at some point today. And I don’t mean sleep. Rather than focusing on how exhausted and irritable I feel, though, I am instead going to tell you about the origin of the expression “out of sorts”. I learned this in a typography class that I took when I first started working in the printing industry.

So, back in the day — before computers and desktop publishing and all this modern technology that we take for granted — any text that was to be printed had to be painstakingly typeset by hand, line by line. The typesetters who performed this task sat at desks that had lots of little compartments, each containing small metal pieces of type, sorted by the letters of the alphabet. These pieces were referred to as ‘sorts’.

When a typesetter ran out of a particular letter, they referred to it as being “out of sorts”. Being out of sorts meant that work had to be halted until the sorts could be replenished, and since many of these dudes were paid based on the amount of pages they could typeset in one day, being out of sorts came to have a negative connotation, equated with being frustrated and ill tempered.

Which is how I’m feeling today. But at least I had the luxury of typing out these sentences on a computer, so I guess I can’t complain too much! :)


3 responses to “Out Of Sorts

  1. OK, this is the best history lesson. Ever. Thank you MSkillz!

  2. MSkillz!! Gah!!! I love it! That is my name from now on!

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