Culture

Typos That Had Huge Unexpected Consequences  

Nathan Gibson
13.6k views 13 items

Typos have been a part of human history ever since people began to read and write. While they mostly effect publishing companies rather than individuals, anyone who has ever written a essay or typed out a message on social media will be aware of how easily unfortunate typos can creep into text and change its entire meaning.

As the written word has had such an impact of our history, it makes sense that some clerical errors could have had a major effect on the world around us and that some of these mistakes could even have changed the world. It only takes the smallest of typos to have a huge effect and lead to unexpected consequences that no one could have foreseen, costing companies millions of dollars and leading to catastrophic disasters.

While you may think that such mistakes can no longer happen thanks to modern technologies, such as the autocorrect feature present on almost every computer and mobile device, typos are still all around us. This is largely due to the fact that more people write or type today than ever before, leading to plenty of possibilities for errors to make their way into important documents, lines of code, and even holy books.

Mars Climate Orbiter Crashed Due To A Code Error
Mars Climate Orbiter Crashed D... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Typos That Had Huge Unexpected Consequences
Photo: NASA/JPL/Wikimedia Commons

This $125 million satellite was sent to Mars in 1999 to observe the weather on the planet, providing valuable information to NASA about the atmospheric and environmental systems on the surface.

Unfortunately, the Mars Climate Observer crashed before it completed its mission. This was due to some calculations having incorrect values typed into them, causing the satellite to drop dangerously low into the atmosphere. This led to friction tearing it apart. How could they have gotten it so wrong? They failed to convert the imperial measurements into metric.

The typo ended up costing the agency a huge amount of money and led to NASA completely overhauling the way it put together its future projects.

A Small Typing Error Led To Loss Of $343 Million
A Small Typing Error Led To Lo... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Typos That Had Huge Unexpected Consequences
Photo: WiNG/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2005, the Japanese company Mizuho Securities attempted to sell one share in J-Com on the Tokyo Stock Exchange for ¥610,000 (around $6,730) but a typing error meant that 610,000 shares were listed for just ¥1 apiece. That's almost less than a penny each.

Although the typo was spotted almost immediately, the broker was unable to cancel the order due to a flaw in the way the TSE handled such requests. The mistake meant that the company lost an estimated ¥40 billion (roughly $343 million at the time of the event), prompting several executives to resign for the botched trade.

An Entire Word Was Briefly Added To The English Language By Mistake
An Entire Word Was Briefly Add... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Typos That Had Huge Unexpected Consequences
Photo: Alborzagros/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Few typos have had as big an impact as this one. When the 1934 edition of the New International Dictionary was being put together, the chemistry editor sent a note that said: "D or d, cont./density,” meant to inform the writers that the letter, in its upper and lower case form, can be used to denote density.

However, an error meant that the spaces were removed between the two letters so that it appeared to read as “Dord” to the editor. Dord was then included in the dictionary, along with its definition, and stayed in place from 1934 until it was detected in 1947.

The Yellow Pages Were Sued For An “Erotic” Travel Ad
The Yellow Pages Were Sued For... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Typos That Had Huge Unexpected Consequences
Photo: via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

When a travel agency decided that they wanted to expand their reach in 1988, they took out an advertisement in the widely distributed Yellow Pages. However, the person responsible for taking the information from the agency over the phone misheard that Banner Travel Services wanted to promote their “exotic” vacations and instead listed the ad as “erotic” vacations.

While the agency received plenty of calls from people looking for sexy, sexy vacations, it cost the company 80% of their business according to court documents. A lawsuit later cost the Yellow Pages more than $10 million in damages.