A Stereotype, also known as a cliché, stereoplate or just a stereo is a metal plate used for printing instead of the original. According to some sources the process was invented in Edinburgh in 1725 by the goldsmith William Ged. In the nineteenth century the stereotype led to the mass-producing of printing plates. This enabled multiple copies to be sent to other printers and newspapers, enabling larger numbers of identical images to be reproduced.
Stereotypes are made by locking the type columns, illustration plates, and advertising plates of a complete newspaper page in a form and molding a matrix, or mat, of papier-mâché or similar material; the dried mat is used as a mold to cast the stereotype from hot metal. A stereotype plate is much stronger and more durable under the press run than would be the composed page of type. It has now been replaced, however, by photopolymer (photosensitive plastic) and lithographic plates.
The term “stereotype” was first used in French to describe this process in the late eighteenth century. The term derives from Greek stereos “solid, firm” and tupos “blow, impression, engraved mark”. Later, stereotype developed as a metaphor for any set of ideas that is repeated identically, without change. The meaning “image reproduced without a change” can be found from the 1850s and the modern meaning “preconceived and oversimplified notion or characteristic typical of a person or group” is first recorded in 1922. Some attribute the use of stereotype in this modern psychological sense to the American journalist Walter Lippman. In his book Public Opinion from 1922, he defined a stereotype as a fixed and rigid “picture in the head.”
In its verb form, stereotype or stereotyping was used as in the figurative sense to “fix firmly or unchangeably” from 1819. By the 1950s it had its modern connotation; to “assign preconceived and oversimplified notion of characteristics typical of a person or group.” Both cliché and stereotype were both originally printers’ words, and in their meanings were synonymous. Cliché was an onomatopoeic word for the sound that was made during the stereotyping process when the matrix hit molten metal. This was known as ‘dabbing’ in English.
Sources and further reading:
- Kleg, Milton. Hate Prejudice and Racism. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1993. Chapter 6: http://books.google.no/books?id=yKrrSa7WqNwC&pg=PA135&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false