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The Curse of the Typographical Error

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Anybody involved in the writing racket has, at one time or another, stumbled into the world of typographical errors. They lurk in the darker reaches of the keyboard waiting to pounce when the mind wanders.

The existence of spelling errors gives rise to Taylor's Law of Typos: No matter how many times you proofread your text, the moment it is published an egregious typo will leap out of the page as if it is printed in 18 pt. Steamroller Gothic Bold type.

Embarrassing Typos

Giggles and red faces are what typos specialize in. When they happen, those who chortle at the errors ought to be prudent in their glee at the misfortune of others because there is always an embarrassing typo waiting around a corner to mug you.

Herewith, a selection of typographical missteps with not the hint of a chuckle from this writer:

  • “Quaker Maid Meats Inc. on Tuesday said it would voluntarily recall 94,400 pounds of frozen ground beef panties that may be contaminated with E.coli” (Reuters).
  • “School Two Easy for Kids” (WNDU, North Dakota).
  • “Thou shalt commit adultery” (Barker and Lucas Bible of 1631).
The error that has caused it to be called "The Wicked Bible."

The error that has caused it to be called "The Wicked Bible."

  • “Jets Patriots Jumphead Goes Herey Barllskydjf Fkdesd fg Asdf” (New Orleans Times-Picayune).
  • “A Better Amercia” (Mitt Romney smartphone app).
  • “15 Best things about our pubic schools” (South Bend, Indiana billboard).
  • “VALLEY NEWSS” (Valley News, New Hampshire).

The newspaper offered a gracious comeback the following day: “Readers may have noticed that Valley News misspelled its own name on yesterday’s front page. Given that we routinely call on other institutions to hold themselves accountable for their mistakes, let us say for the record: We sure feel silly.”

In 1817, The Times carried a story about the opening of London’s Waterloo Bridge by the Prince Regent. It noted that after the ceremony “The Royal party then pissed over the bridge.” It was reported that the entire composing room staff was fired.

The High Price of Typos

Errors in printing can be costly.

Tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto was a mouth-watering dish described in the Pasta Bible, published by Penguin Australia. Following instructions in the assembly, cooks were given the finishing touch and told to add “freshly ground black people.” Newspapers had fun with headlines such as “Publisher Peppered with Complaints.”

Once a reader spotted the typo and alerted Penguin the company had to pulp 7,000 copies of the cookbook at a cost of $20,000.

“100% Anus Beef.”

Hardee’s Billboard

But, the Penguin gaffe was small beer compared to the typographical calamity that befell Pacific Bell Yellow Pages. In composing an ad for a travel agency an “r” replaced an “x.” Not, a big deal unless the word involved is “exotic.”

Banner Travel Services of Sonoma, California was inundated with folks looking to go to hedonistic destinations. Yellow Pages offered to refund the $230 cost of the ad, which seemed a little cheap to the agency. Banner Travel sued and was awarded more than $19 million in compensation.

Typos Ecclesiastical and Monetary

The Vatican issued a medallion in October 2013 to commemorate Pope Francis’s first year in office. Made of silver, gold, and bronze, 6,000 of the coins went on sale. Then, a hawk-eyed follower noticed the misspelling of the boss’s name as Lesus instead of Jesus.

Recall, recall, recall. The Vatican got 5,996 of the medals back from retailers, which means that some collectors now possess some very valuable Lesus items.

Australia issued a new $50 bank note in 2019 and put 46 million of them into circulation. The new bills had all sorts of anti-counterfeiting devices on them including lines of micro-text from a speech given by the country’s first female Member of Parliament: “It is a great responsibilty [sic] to be the only woman here, and I want to emphasise the necessity which exists for other women being here.”

Who knows how many pairs of eyes viewed proofs and failed to spot the missing “i”?

The general manager of the Chilean mint was fired in 2010 when 50-peso coins went into circulation with the country’s name spelled CHIIE.

There’s probably not a lot of demand for ex-mint managers who speak Spanish.

Typosquatting

Spelling errors may be a boon to Google because of an activity called typosquatting. Ne’er-do-wells register a domain name with a slightly different spelling from a popular site. So instead of HubPages.com, the squatter registers HubPage.com or HunPages.com.

New Scientist explains how that change of one letter can be profitable for the typosquatter and Google: If people type in the wrong address “frequently enough, the owner of [HubPage.com] can profit by placing ads on their page. They could, in particular, use Google’s advertising network, which automatically assigns ads to a page based on its content, or using keywords provided by the page’s owner.”

The owner of the bogus page gets advertising revenue and Google takes a cut of that. Two researchers at Harvard University say the activity might be raking in as much as $500 million a year for Google.

All typographical errors in this article are intentional and designed to measure the alertness of readers.

Bonus Factoids

  • The Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. was dedicated in 1922. It cost $2 million (about $31 million in today’s money) and used 38,000 tons of limestone and marble. Carved into the stone is President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, complete with a typo (or, would it be more properly called a chiselo?). There for all to see is “hope for the euture.” The bottom leg of the “E” has since been filled in with stone of a slightly different colour, but the mistake is still visible.
  • On the night of February 7, 1898 a bleary-eyed editor at The New York Times committed a typographical blunder that the newspaper continued to carry for more than a century. The editor’s job was to update the issue number in the top left-hand corner of the front page. On the night in question, the editor made the issue number jump from 14,499 to 15,000. A simple mathematical error that wasn’t spotted until 102 years later, when the newspaper printed the following: “Because the 500-issue error persisted until yesterday (No. 51,753)… today The Times turns back the clock to correct the sequence: this issue is No. 51,254.”
  • The Pentax Optio M60 Compact Digital Camera was advertised as being “Powered by lithium batteries, you’ll always be ready for a sh*t.”

Sources

  • “Penguin Cookbook Calls for ‘Freshly Ground Black People.’ ” Richard Lea, The Guardian, April 19, 2010.
  • “Typos May Earn Google $500m a Year.” Jim Giles, New Scientist, February 17, 2010.
  • “The World’s Worst Typos – in Pictures.” The Guardian, October 25, 2012.
  • “Typo: Examples of Typographical Errors.” Richard Norquist, ThoughtCo.com, February 12, 2020.
  • “11 of the Most Expensive Typos in the World.” Brandon Specktor, Reader’s Digest, undated.

© 2020 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on April 10, 2020:

Haha!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 10, 2020:

Rupert, I am still gingling. Little wonder we re-read an article or story over and over. Yet, the costly same mistakes persists. My local Newspaper call the challenge "Devil's Error," and then points out previous mistakes made with public appology. In the online world, proof readers have even failed or contributed to the issue.