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Ask Dr. Couth: Why are bluelines blue?
Published
1996, Sep-Oct (June 03, 2008)
Hmmmmm. I am tempted to tell you they are blue because they feel sad knowing they will be changed at blueline time, but I will resist. I understand that you want a serious answer to your question.

The answer calls to mind the Milli Vanilli flap. It involves phonies, covert operations, big money, exposes, and blazoning headlines in The Independent.

Let me explain.

Long ago in a kingdom far, far away, bluelines were called "proofs." The printers used black ink to create these proofs, and writers did not have to wear pop-bottle bottom glasses1 to be able to read them.

Life was easy then.

However, a small group of wicked, would-be-writers (pre-Milli Vanilli2), decided to get into the lucrative writing business. They knew there were big bucks to be had, especially for those writers who wrote for big computer companies.

Rather than learn how to write, these unscrupulous, low-life thieves infiltrated the printing business. There, working as printers, they ran two copies of the (black ink) proofs: one to return to the writers and one for themselves.

And then they waited.

If the proofs did not come back within 48 hours (which rarely happened), these printer plagiarists printed those publications and sold them (wholesale) to customers. These proof-pirating printers accurately predicted that big computer companies would make hundreds of changes, thus delaying the "final" printing.

They got rich. They led the good life. They did not suffer from compressed schedules, out-of-date specifications, or three approval drafts. They did not have to sit in countless status meetings, get two developers to agree on how the product really works, review their work with their manager, or suffer from red-ink-happy editors.

Life was good...until one fateful day.

On that day, a bored buyer of a bootleg book actually compared that book to the book that came with the product (a book that, heretofore, remained bound in shrinkwrap). There were differences, many differences. The titles were the same, yet the new book appeared to explain an entirely different product!

The product's functions seemed drastically
changed. How could this be?

This bewildered buyer called an innovative investigative reporter on The Independent, and the media blitz began. Some of the headlines were:
Printers In a Pickle Over Proof Probe

Wronged Writers Wrestle With Rascals

Bluelines3 Blessed! Printers Put In Pen.


Yes, the conversion to the blues saved the day. And do you know why? The answer lies in the fact that copiers cannot detect light blue print; would-be thieves could print only blank pages!

There is an unfortunate footnote to this foul feat. Several of those jailbirds, released for good behavior, continued the scam. They decided to "print" bluelines, thus producing manuals with blank pages. And, believe it or not, they continued to sell (at a profit!) these blank-paged manuals to hapless customers.

The unfortunate part? No one noticed.

If you have questions of equal importance, send them to Dr. Couth care of your newsletter editor (tigger at vnet dot net or 481-2287). Dr. Couth will be a regular column as long as you have questions. End of article.



  1. Contacts were not invented yet.
  2. In fact, Milli Vanilli may have concocted their hoax based on this case.
  3. The press, a creative lot, coined the term bluelines. (Why bluelines? "Blue ink proofs" wouldn't fit in the headline.)


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