Typo Tales & Tactics
by Marcia Yudkin
News flash: Because of
the placement of a certain comma, regulators
with the Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission ruled that Rogers
Communications owed Aliant corporation around
$2.13 million more than it expected. To
the regulators, the comma clearly indicated that
an "unless" contingency applied to one
part of the sentence only and not to two parts
of the sentence, as the losing party in this
It really is useful to
know the rules of grammar! Read
the whole story.
And BBC News quotes an
ecommerce company president who says that his
company has seen revenues double after they have
corrected a spelling mistake on a sales
The following pieces appeared
in Marcia Yudkin's weekly email newsletter, The
Marketing Minute. Subscribe
to it, free, now. Copyright 2004-2008
Marcia Yudkin. All rights reserved.
Overzealous proofreading can
create catastrophe, as can poor proofreading
or none at all.
Mail-order sporting goods
giant L.L. Bean barely averted disaster last
week when its back-to-school catalog arrived in
millions of homes. The catalog invited people to
call a phone number that belonged to a Virginia company
instead of the Maine-based mega-retailer. L.L.
Bean paid the Virginia company an unnamed sum of
money (surely six figures!) to immediately take
over the misprinted phone number.
The misprint's cause: an employee who
"knew" a toll-free number starting
with "877" should really have started
The remedy: don't assume
anything. You could be wrong! Somehow that
employee hadn't heard that toll-free numbers now
may begin with "877" and not only
"800." I've seen this sort of mis-correction
again and again with proper names. A business
author I admire often gets listed in
bibliographies as "Murray Raphael."
True, "Raphael" is more logical than
"Raphel," but it's wrong.
Before you correct, check!
With a phone number, that's especially easy.
Just reach for your keypad and punch it in.
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More Misprint Mischief
"To be or to be."
That's how one of the most famous sentences in
the English language began several years ago in
a new edition of Shakespeare's
"Hamlet." Six professional
proofreaders failed to catch the mistake, which
received national publicity and gave the
publishing company a red face.
Similarly, the Wall Street
Journal once devoted eight column inches to
ridiculing a conference on critical thinking
that sent out a press release referring to the
conference's "world renown"
researchers "in field of thinking"
such as our former surgeon general "C.
Everett Coop." (He spells it "Koop.")
Not convinced that
misspellings make a difference? In
Wellesley, Massachusetts, a man handed a bank
teller a note that read: "Give me
your 10s and 20s and no die pack."
Distracted by the misspelling of "die"
for "dye," the teller had to reread
the note to realize that this was an attempted
stickup. Indignant, she crumpled up the
note and told the guy, "I'm not giving you
any money. Now get the hell out of
here." He obeyed, his message having
failed to get across.
A Typo Non-Disaster
Being misidentified by the
media is disastrous, right? Not to Janice
A reporter from Investorís
Business Daily once interviewed her for an
article on office organizing. Hoffman was
pleased to find the article on IVBís
front page, but annoyed to read that her
company, Before & After, is located in
There is no such town.
Hoffman made numerous calls to
the paper, working her way along to the senior
editor, who apologized and agreed to run a
correction. The next day, Hoffman received
a call from a producer at Bostonís Channel 4
who hadnít read the original article but saw
the correction: "Janice Hoffman,
Professional Organizer, is located in Watertown,
"That, it turns out, was all
that was needed to begin a beautiful, mutually
beneficial relationship," Hoffman says.
"I was on Channel 4 twice last summer, once
for a report on yard sales and how to do them
well, and the other a Before and After of my
work with a client over the period of a month.
"That was definitely my
favorite typo, ever," she notes.
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The Cost of Carelessness
Occasionally I encounter marketers who insist spelling
or typos don't matter. "No one really cares," their
argument goes. "It humanizes the copy, and besides,
everyone knows what we mean."
In 2004, Judge Jacob P. Hart of Philadelphia slashed the
fee due an attorney in half because of overabundant typos.
The lawyer lost $31,350.
In Britain, DDS Media had to destroy 10,000 spelling game
DVDs whose cover misspelled TV anchor Eamonn Holmes' name.
A Wisconsin-based editor paid an executive recruiter
$1,720 to spruce up her resume and send it to 200 potential
employers, only to learn that the resumes went out
containing a section of gibberish. The editor sued the
headhunter for more than $75,000.
In 2005, a trader on the Tokyo stock exchange intended to
trade 1 share at 610,000 yen, but instead placed an order
for 610,000 shares at 1 yen each. The firm's loss: around
A spell-check service whose motto is "no more embarrassing
errors" itself uses "then" where "than" is correct. Will
potential clients really laugh this off?
The High Stakes of Typos
When your typos make the news, you can look not only careless
but also wasteful.
In late March 2008, Arkansas governor Mike Beebe called the state
assembly into special session partly to deal with a typo in
a 2007 law that had mistakenly allowed girls of any age (even
infants) to marry with their parents' consent. A special
session costs taxpayers about $25,000 a day.
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Around the same time, a candidate for a Congressional seat in
West Virginia discovered that the Secretary of State's office
had misspelled her name on the ballots. According to state
law, the error must be corrected at taxpayers' expense -
costing $100,000 - $125,000.
Is one answer to such flubs using the "auto-correct" function
in Microsoft Word? Definitely not. In the May issue of
Writer's Digest, E.S. Gaffney says that when she worked for
a Department of Energy laboratory, she submitted a proposal
to someone with the last name Prono. The spell-checker
automatically changed poor Mr. Prono's name to... you guessed
it. Gaffney didn't notice the mistaken correction and the
Typo Prevention Tactics
once happened to me: the word "pubic"
in my book where it should clearly have been
"public." And in an expensive mailing,
I once caught my fax number where my phone
number should have been, just before the piece
went to the printer.
Typos can wreak havoc on your business. To
prevent such gaffes:
Let your printouts sit at least overnight before
finalizing them. Rereading after time has lapsed
helps you spot glaring errors.
Actually dial all phone or fax numbers to make
sure you haven't transposed digits or worse.
Test URLs in the same way, and carefully examine
zip codes and street numbers.
In a recurrent publication, like a newsletter,
or a letter you're adapting for a new recipient,
make sure you've appropriately changed all dates
and no-longer-relevant information deep in the
Is it Kmart or K-Mart or some other variation?
Confirm the spelling of all place names, company
names and proper names.
Take another look at stated prices. Missing
decimal points, switched numbers, shipping costs
updated in one spot and not another all bollix
up the ordering process.
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