The Hidden Power of Words: ‘Template’

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template |ˈtemplət|


1 a shaped piece of metal, wood, card, plastic, or other material used as a pattern for processes such as painting, cutting out, shaping, or drilling.

• something that serves as a model for others to copy


Today’s Word: Template

Common Phrases and Usage in American English: “Are you finished with that template? I need it so I can finish my woodworking piece. “I have a whole stack of document templates at work: it makes preparing proposals and contracts so much easier!

My Take on the Definition and Guess as to the Origin: Given my experience with the word ‘pattern,’ I’m going to guess ‘template’ has origins in Latin. Perhaps there’s also some origins in Old German as well?

Drumroll Please:

ORIGIN late 17th cent. (as templet): probably from temple3 + -et1. The change in the ending in the 19th cent. was due to association with plate.

Okay, well that was completely unexpected! Let’s take a look at ‘temple.’



a device in a loom for keeping the cloth stretched.

ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French, perhaps ultimately the same word as temple2.

temple 2|ˈtempəl|


the flat part of either side of the head between the forehead and the ear.

ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French, from an alteration of Latin tempora, plural of tempus ‘temple of the head.’

Okay, it’s time to bring in some more help here from The Online Etymology Dictionary:

template (n.)

1670s, templet “horizontal piece under a girder or beam,” probably from French templet “weaver’s stretcher,” diminutive of temple, which meant the same thing, from Latin templum “plank, rafter,” also “building for worship” (see temple (n.1)).

The meaning “pattern or gauge for shaping a piece of work” is first recorded 1819 in this form, earlier temple (1680s); the form was altered 1844, probably influenced by plate, but the pronunciation did not begin to shift until much more recently.

The above definition somewhat helped, but I say we take a look at ‘plate’

plate |plāt|


1 a flat dish, typically circular and made of china, from which food is eaten or served.

2 a thin, flat sheet or strip of metal or other material, typically one used to join or strengthen things or forming part of a machine

3 a sheet of metal, plastic, or some other material bearing an image of type or illustrations from which multiple copies are printed.

ORIGIN Middle English (denoting a flat, thin sheet, usually of metal): from Old French, from medieval Latin plata ‘plate armor,’ based on Greek platus‘flat.’

Sense 1 of the noun represents Old French plat ‘platter, large dish,’ also ‘dish of meat,’ noun use of Old French plat ‘flat.’

Wow, that was an interesting and rather long tour of the origins of ‘template.’ It is nice to see that even in today’s digital world we can’t get away from physical materials when talking about ‘template,’ such as wood, metal, plastic etc.

It’s slightly humorous in a roundabout sort of way, but have you ever noticed that when you need to make a photocopy of something there’s always some note that tells you to make sure the item to copied needs to lay flat on the glass? ‘Template’ and ‘flat’ come around full circle!

Note: Dictionary used for definitions and references is The New Oxford American Dictionary, Version 2.2.3 (118.5), Apple Inc., Copyright 2005-2011 and The Online Etymology Dictionary,

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Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.
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