I am fortunate enough to have a fairly unimportant job. I spend most of my time either cranking out programs, cranking out articles, or cranking out various substances which I’m told are “inappropriate to discuss on a professional website.” All but that last one require me to work at a keyboard, which means that the occasional typo is inevitable. For me, the worst that usually happens is a bad compile or some embarrassment. For some, the consequences can be slightly worse.
Let’s look at the most recent example. On May 6th, the Dow Jones tanked. It fell almost 1000 points in an hour. This is what’s known in economic circles as “the end of the world.” The global economy is fairly shaky right now, so there are dozens of potential culprets. Maybe the Greek bond market spontaneously combusted. Maybe Goldman Sachs decided to blow all of its money on hackey sacks and beer. Maybe Eyjafjallajokul (gesundheit) belched out an ash cloud that took down a plain filled with all of the world’s money. Evidently – and this may be just a rumor, but let’s roll with it – the real answer is a little more mundane. See, some trader at Citibank hit a B when he meant to hit an M. Typically that doesn’t make much of a difference, except when the next few letters are “illion.” Yeah. When you drop a billion of something instead of a million, people notice. If you heard a strange sound around 2:45PM that day, it was just every stock broker in the world simultaneously “unloading” their “assets.” You know, “investing in fertilizer futures?” … I’m talking about pooping.
Now that the man responsible, let’s call him Bob the former Citibank employee, has been given his moment of infamy, I wondered if there were any other fun typos in history. The first one that leaps to mind happened way back in 1631. It seems a couple of printers named Robert Barker and Martin Lucas were supposed to print up a fresh edition of the King James Bible. They did a pretty good job, all things considered. The only mistake they made was leaving one measly word out. It happened to be the word “not,” which tends to have rather serious consequences in any official text. In this case, it ended up not only permitting, but requiring all faithful Christians to cheat on their wives. “Thou shalt commit adultery.” The oopsie resulted in the run of books being dubbed “The Wicked Bible,” or as miserable spouses called it, “The best thing to ever happen, ever.”
Now a wrong letter here or a missing word there can have major consequences, but when it comes to sheer fame, there is one typo that trumps them all. Google is synonymous with searching. (In fact, technically Google is a synecdoche for searching. I just wanted to illustrate that I know that word.) It is probably typed a few million times a day. Which makes it entertaining to me that it is technically spelled wrong. See, there is a mathematical term defining the number 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The mathemetician in question asked his nine year old nephew for a word to use, and he said googol. Flash forward about 70 years and some guys were brainstorming a name for their search engine. They were shooting for that fancy math term. They almost got it. I guess we should just be glad that it was a nine year old Milton Sirotta asked way back then. If it had been a fifteen year old, we’d all be using “craplode” right now.
There are other examples – Evidently there may or may not be a comma in the constitution that would let the government just take your stuff – But there is a limit to the amount that the average web surfer is willing to read about typographical hijinks, and I think I crossed that line about two paragraphs ago. So until next time, make sure you proofread your contracts, religious texts, and stock transactions, because if you don’t, not only will you potentially cause chaos, you’ll also become the subject of a pointless post on a pointless site. And nobody wants that.