Stereotype

Having a “stereotype” means holding rigid and negative opinions about groups of people. But the word originally had no such meaning. It comes from the history of printing. Prior to the 1790s, printers assembled type by hand and fastened it into a rigid frame called a form that could then be used to print. This was slow and caused serious wear on the type (which would be disassembled and reused). A development occurred in France in the 1790s that changed everything. The print was covered by papier mache or plaster, and when it dried, formed a mold, which was called a flong. Molten metal, called type metal, was poured into the mold, and when cooled, formed a durable printing surface duplicating the original form. The type metal was an alloy, largely made of lead. Several of these could be made from the same mold, allowing multiple presses to print and vastly speeding the printing process. These multiple copies were called clichés, stereos or stereoforms. It is not clear when the word “stereotype” became used for rigid views held about groups of people, but it goes back at least to the early 20th century.

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