01 July 2019


Boilerplate Mercury Capsule
NASA engineers inspect and test a boilerplate Mercury space capsule.
Image: NASA on The Commons

You will sometimes hear material referred to as being "boilerplate."

In my own academic work, it is sometimes used to describe a general statement, such as a grading policy, used as a starting place that teachers can modify to their needs, or sometimes, it is used "as is."

I have also heard it used to describe standardized pieces of text for contracts, and as a portion of a computer program. As the illustration above shows, it can also be used to describe a non-textual object.

In newspaper publishing, before the days of digital printing. There was syndicated material supplied to smaller newspapers in a printing plate form. This was particularly true for weekly newspapers who could use these feature stories, editorials, etc. supplied by large publishing syndicates. Rather than having to set type for the story, it was delivered on metal plates with the type already in place. They were given the name "boiler plates" because they looked like the plating used in making steam boilers.

The word "boilerplate" was used to refer to the printed material on the plates as well as to the plates themselves. Boilerplate stories were often more considered "filler" than hard news, and so the the word acquired a negative connotation. Some modern dictionaries will list its meaning as including the sense of boilerplate being hackneyed, unoriginal or clich├ęd writing that expresses a generally accepted opinion or belief.

You will also still find it meaning the rolled steel used for making boilers. And a more specialized meaning, as used in climbing, is to describe smooth, overlapping and undercut slabs of rock.

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