What is a 'Pye'?

We need to first consider the history of the printing press. Long before digital media and design, moveable-type printing was the laborious and painstaking process of organizing single pieces of metal type within a frame in preparation for applying ink and running the press. This delightful video from Plymouth University, featuring Paul Collier, demonstrates the process. 

'A jumbled mess of types ...'

Image credit: Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

As with many professions, printing developed a colorful and descriptive jargon associated with the processes, equipment and materials used by printers. In the not so uncommon event that a tray or drawer of type was dropped or spilled, resulting in a jumbled mess of types mixed together, the term used for this mess was 'pye' or 'pie', suggestive of the odd collection of objects magpies are known to curate in their nests. The buckets used to collect 'pye', from which some poor soul would have to sort through and put in proper order, was referred to as a 'hell box'.

The process of writing and editing often resembles sorting through a bucket of pye ...

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