Last month, two members of the Washington Nationals took to the field without noticing their team name was misspelled on their jerseys. Apparently, it took them until the third inning to realize they were experiencing their own version of a wardrobe malfunction. This typo didn’t result in anything more than a little embarrassment (and with a 10-19 record, there are bigger things to be embarrassed about), but some typos in history have had more significant outcomes. Here are a few examples.
In 1631, a widely distributed Bible came to be known as the “Sinner’s Bible” when readers noticed a very important “not” had been omitted from Exodus 20:14, making the seventh commandment read “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This resulted in printer fines, recalled copies, and one crazy bingo night in 1632. Today, 11 copies are known to exist (and you have to think Hugh Hefner owns at least one).
On July 31, 1931, Austin M. Patterson, chemistry editor at Merriam-Webster, sent an internal communication to the printers that included the phrase “D or d, cont./density.” The intention was to add “density” to the existing list of words that the letter “D” can abbreviate. The printer misunderstood, and instead, printed a single, run-together word: dord, meaning density. The typo got past proofreaders and appeared on page 771 of the dictionary in 1934. It wasn’t until February 28, 1939, that an editor noticed “dord” lacked an etymology, and an urgent plate change soon followed.
For twelve hours on April 5, 2006, an Alitalia business class fare from Toronto to Cyprus was listed as $39 instead of the usual $3900. Someone at farecompare.com posted the news online, starting a buying stampede that lasted until the fare was corrected. Alitalia initially tried to cancel the already issued tickets, but eventually relented, and approximately 2000 people flew to Cyprus for under $200, including taxes.
Earlier this year, an Oregon company had to place a rush order for new packaging for its Peace Cereal. It seems a typo on the box sent callers to a phone sex line instead of the cereal maker’s 800 number. So, instead of reaching the Golden Temple consumer relations department, callers were greeted by a recorded voice asking, “Do you love sex?” A spokesperson for the company attributed the incident to human error. And many Peace Cereal purchasers attributed their laughing fits to the incident for days to come.
This one comes from columnist A.J. Jacobs, writing in mental_floss magazine. “In 2005, a typo by a Japanese stock trader cost one investment bank $224 million. The broker meant to sell 1 share of J-Com at 610,000 yen, not 610,000 shares at 1 yen each.”
One more from A.J.: “In 1991, a single mistyped character in a line of computer code left 12 million people without telephone service. DSC Communications and Bell Systems confirmed that massive outages on the East Coast and West Coast could be traced back to the one, tiny error.”
In 1997, Larry Page was in his office at the Gates Computer Science Building at Stanford University with several graduate students, including Sean Anderson. They were having a brainstorming session to think of a name for a website where immense amounts of data would be indexed. Sean suggested “googolplex,” and Larry shortened it to “googol.” Sean immediately ran a domain name search, but not being the best speller, he typed in “google,” which was available. Larry liked the name, and within hours he took the step of registering google.com for himself and Sergey Brin.
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