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Tony Deyal | Freudian and other slips

Published:Friday | November 30, 2018 | 12:00 AM

My most embarrassing typo, a phenomenon aided by the omnipresent spellcheck that is incorporated in today's word-processing software, was leaving out the 'l' in the word 'public' that came before 'relations' in something I was writing about my job as a 'public-relations manager'.

Some people thought it was a Freudian slip, or unintentional error, regarded as revealing subconscious feelings. Another close friend said cryptically, "The truth will out." My slip was showing, but it was not as bad or as public as the one made by the Reuters news agency in 2005 when it was awarded 'The Typo of the Year Award' for this classic, "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." And even that mistake pales in comparison with the one that gave 'The Wicked Bible' its name.

It was in 1631 that 1,000 copies of a new edition of the King James Bible left out the word 'not' from the Seventh Commandment, which should have read, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." It was worse than the difference between 'celibate' and 'celebrate'. The King was exceedingly angry, as was the Archbishop. Most of the offending copies were burnt and the publishers were fined £300 (the equivalent of more than $60,000 today) and had their printing licences revoked. A few copies are still around and one sold a few years ago for more than US$40,000.

US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was far from angry when in 1940 he came down with a severe cold and The Washington Post (accused by the present president, Donald Trump, of printing 'fake news') ran the headline 'FDR IN BED WITH COED'. Perhaps because in the US a 'coed' is a female student at a coeducational institution, Roosevelt found the error so funny that he ordered 100 copies of the newspaper to give to friends.


Change in meaning


It is interesting that prior to 1892, the word 'typo' was short for 'typographer but subsequently was used to mean 'typographical error', or misprint. Oscar Wilde had said, "A poet can survive anything but a misprint," but the problem is not limited to poets.

Consider some of the smaller typos like 'OFF Incest Repellent' (a long, lasting spray), 100 per cent Anus Beef (rump steak?), "Illegally parked cars will be fine", a prescription with the instructions "Take one by mouth nightly 3 hours before ded", and the computer question of questions, "Are you sure you want to exist?" and gives you the option "Yes" or "No."

There are some that are costly as well as embarrassing. The Penguin publishing group in Australia earns about $120 million a year from its books but, like the Wicked Bible, committed a one-word wickedness that cost it some big bucks. The company produced a book called the Pasta Bible. One of the recipes, tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto, called for "salt and freshly ground black pepper". Unfortunately, the recipe generated more heat than a Moruga Scorpion when instead of "pepper" it said "people".

This cost the company but not as much as the mistake made by Prudential Insurance, which is considered one of the most expensive of all time.

In 1978, Prudential, the largest insurance company in the US at the time, lent US$160 million to United States Lines, a shipping firm. Included in the deal was that Prudential would have a lien on eight ships. In 1986, United States Lines went bankrupt and started to get rid of assets, including ships.

An examination of the documents disclosed that someone had omitted three little zeros, so that instead of the US$92,885,000 it claimed, Prudential was only entitled to US$92,885.

In the end, Prudential got US$56 million, or almost $37 million less than it expected. There were others.

A travel agency specialising in 'exotic' locations found out that the Yellow Pages had changed 'exotic' to 'erotic', and while they attracted a few new customers, the majority of their older customers left them. They are suing for $10 million.

Alitalia airlines made the mistake of leaving out two zeros from the $3,900 price of a first-class ticket from Toronto to Cyprus. About 2,000 travellers took advantage of the $39 tickets because the airline, caught between a rock and a hard place, chose to honour the ticket price to save its reputation. In 2013, the department store chain Macy's advertised a necklace worth US$1,500 for US$47. The entire inventory sold out in record time.

The costliest typo of all happened in 1962 when the Cold War was at its height and America's space race against the Soviet Union was in full flight. The Russians launched their satellites and America responded with Mariner 1, an US$18.5 million probe bound for Venus on the nation's very first planetary mission.

It was a very costly disaster. Mariner 1 veered dangerously off course seconds after launch, lost contact, lost control and was deliberately blown up 293 seconds after launch.

The cause of the problem was supposedly a missing hyphen in the guidance code. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke called it "the most expensive hyphen in history". I wonder what he would call the sign that warns, "Shoplifters will be prostituted."

- Tony Deyal was last seen marvelling at the newspaper headline, 'Students Get First Hand Job Experience'.