I have started the fourth of a series of online editing courses, which compels students to reflect not only on what constitutes a mistake and how to correct it, but also on the consequences of publishing mistakes. (A lot of the study entails proofreading and using proofreader's marks, you see.) That is why a did a search about typographical errors on the web.
I came across quite a few articles or mentions of typos that had caused a stir. That discovery brought to mind an old yarn about a secretary who made a typo so serious that it caused chaos, even prompting a discussion in parliament. This yarn used to circulate within the Public Service Alliance of Canada, a union of government employees, most of whom who are in administrative positions. I remember it being told at gatherings and getting quite a good laugh in the early 90's.
I could not find that old story, but I found a lot of other jokes about typos or citings of funny typos on the internet. Here is a list of 10 humourous errors published in newspapers. It was compiled by Richard Nordquist and published on grammar.about.com.
"Typos are like rocks in a New England garden," said Dr. David Williams. "No matter how many you find and remove, the next time you look a big one will be staring you in the face."
For proofreaders everywhere, here are some
really big rocks:10 outstanding typographical errors.
- On April 22, 2003, a closed-captioning typist for ABC's World News Tonight informed viewers that Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan was "in the hospital for an enlarged prostitute." Later that evening, viewers were advised that Mr. Greenspan was in fact having prostate problems.
- "In our report of the Welsh National Opera's Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, the computer spellchecker did not recognise the term WNO (Welsh National Opera). A slip of the finger caused it to be replaced with the word 'winos.'"
(Liverpool Daily Post, April 2005)
- "Readers may have noticed that the Valley News misspelled its own name [as Valley Newss] 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."
(Valley News, July 22, 2008)
- "A story headlined 'Syria seeks our help to woo U.S.' in Saturday's Weekend Australian misquoted National Party senator Sandy Macdonald. The quote stated, 'Syria is a country that has been a bastard state for nearly forty years,' but should have read, 'Syria is a country that has been a Baathist state for nearly forty years.'"
(The Australian, March 29, 2004)
- "Under dim lights in a grand hall of the great Folger Shakespeare Library lies the 'Wicked Bible,' called so because it omits one distinctly important word from the Seventh Commandment. It is a word with the power to prevent sin.
"'Thou shalt commit adultery,' the Wicked Bible commands.
"For this unfortunate typo, the printer of this 1631 edition of the King James Bible met with retribution. By order of the king, copies of the 'Wicked Bible' were quickly gathered and burned. Its printer, Robert Barker, was chastised for stupidity."
(DeNeen L. Brown, "Folger Shakespeare Library Celebrates 400th Anniversary of King James Bible." The Washington Post, October 7, 2011)
- "In the Feb. 6 article 'Cut, Thrust and Christ,' we misquoted Jerry Falwell as using the words 'assault ministry.' In fact, Falwell was referring to 'a salt ministry,' a reference to Matthew 5:13 where Jesus says 'ye are the salt of the earth.'"
(Newsweek, Feb. 13, 2006)
- "A story in Saturday's Section A on David Brewer's selection as the next superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District quoted Brewer as saying: 'A good friend came up to me and said, "Dave, why wait? Why wait to help disadvantage children?"' The quote should have read: 'A good friend came up to me and said, "Dave, why wait? Why wait to help disadvantaged children?"'"
(Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 2006)
- "In our entry on Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days, we referred to a Prairie Ho Companion; we meant a Prairie Home Companion. This has been corrected."
(The Guardian, Jan. 20, 2009)
- "At a joint services school I attended in the early 1980s, considerable attention was given to the production of a new staff manual that would help its army, navy, air force, and marine students to understand one another better. An unfortunate typo, however, somewhat compromised this goal, because the stated purpose, 'to work together for the common good,' came out 'work together for the common goo.' It was corrected, but only over the objections of those who argued that the original version was more honest."
(Carl Kenneth Allard, Business as War: Battling for Competitive Advantage. John Wiley & Sons, 2004)
- "Joan Jacobs said one of her family’s all-time favorite typos was in a legal decision from the National Labor Relations Board. Joan’s husband was a judge, and as he was reading another judge’s decision, he came upon a sentence that began, 'This mush is clear . . ..'"
(John Kelly, "With the Written Word, the Eyes Don't Always Have It." The Washington Post, October 3, 2011)