30 October 2013

Boiler Plate

The term "boilerplate" has an interesting etymology. The word has come to mean in publishing and other fields as a unit of writing that can be used over and over without change.

printing plate
In the field of printing, the term dates back to the early 1900s. Starting in the late 1800s, printing plates of text that were going to be used over and over, such as advertisements or syndicated columns, started being stamped in steel instead of the much softer and less durable lead. They came to be known as 'boilerplates'. Until the 1950s, thousands of newspapers received and used this kind of boilerplate from the nation's largest supplier, the Western Newspaper Union.

Some companies sent out press releases as boilerplates because then they had to be printed as written and without changes. Literal plates are not used for printing today, but boilerplate, or "boiler," text might still be text sent out to be used "as is" which saves the recipient from having to create content.

In contractual law, the term "boilerplate language" describes the parts of a contract that are considered standard.

Even computer programs may contain boilerplate sections of code that are used in many places with little or no alteration. It is used for efficiency.


But why BOILER plate?  The term boiler is used for a closed vessel in which water or other fluid is heated. They are constructed of boilerplate, a relatively thick, high quality sheet steel. The metal at least resembles the sheets used in the printing process. Those boilers also typically carried a smaller plate of embossed metal (as shown here) that told who had produced the boiler.

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