Typos That Had Huge Unexpected Consequences

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.

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  • Mars Climate Orbiter Crashed Due To A Code Error

    Mars Climate Orbiter Crashed Due To A Code Error
    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

    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 Added To The English Language By Mistake
    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

    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.

  • The Name Google Was A Complete Accident

    The Name Google Was A Complete Accident
    Photo: Tobias Haase / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    In September 1997, Larry Page and his fellow Google founders were discussing what to call their newly created search engine. Sean Anderson suggested the word “googolplex.” A googolplex is a very large number, and the search engine would have to deal with a huge amount of data, so it made sense.

    Page liked the idea but decided to shorten it to “googol,” as it would be catchier and easier to read. When Anderson went to search for the term to see if the domain name was available, he misspelt the word as google and registered it after Page liked the alternative spelling. This effectively means that the name of one of the most influential and powerful companies in the world was a typo.

  • A Misprint In Official State Koran Caused Political Turmoil

    A Misprint In Official State Koran Caused Political Turmoil
    Photo: Malaiya / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Kuwait was plunged into political turmoil in 1991 when the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, dissolved parliament to stop MPs from issuing a vote of no confidence in him.

    The move came after free, state-made copies of the Koran had typos and misprints in them that essentially omitted a few passages of the holy book. This caused outrage amongst many Muslims in Kuwait as they thought that the Sheikh was trying to change the faith. This directly led to him dissolving the elected body.