Nathan Gibson

Updated 2019 Jun 14

Typos (generally, errors in spelling of a printed word) 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 an 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 [many of which are, actually caused by “autocorrect”…!]. 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 Cra... 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

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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 (TSE) 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 Brief... 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 Su... 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.

The Name Google Was A Complete Accident

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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. (Or, maybe not…)

[Editor’s Note: It’s impossible to ignore the history of Barney Google and his “goo-goo-googly eyes.” For further information on this interesting topic see:]

A Misprint In Official State Koran Caused Political Turmoil

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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.

A Missing Comma Led To Contract Confusion For A Massive Merger

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Photo: Raysonho/Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0

Contracts need to be checked very carefully by all parties before they are signed. After all, they are the integral way that business relationships are cemented and once they come into effect they are legally binding. Really, you’d expect big companies not to just blindly agree to a contract like you do to your Apple software updates.

Two companies in Canada found out the hard way that getting grammar exactly correct in such contracts is vitally important, as a typo that included an extra comma meant that Rogers Communications could cancel their agreement after just one year rather than the five years initially planned. It cost Bell Aliant more than $1 million.

Chile Had To Leave Thousands Of Misprinted Coins In Circulation After An Error

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Photo: axelle b

When Chile announced that it was set to issue hundreds of thousands of new coins in 2008, no one could have guessed they would go on to be a national embarrassment and cost several mint executives their jobs.

See, all the coins had a rather obvious typo on them that got the name of the country wrong. The coins actually had “Chiie” stamped on them. As so many of the coins had already entered circulation, they could not be effectively recalled. Mint boss Gregorio Íñiguez and several other employees all lost their jobs as a result of the blunder.

A Grammar Error Meant Cancer Researchers Lost $8 Million

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Photo: Nikita2706/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Recent history has seen various governments and politicians around the world implement bans and extra taxes on tobacco products (such as cigarettes) as the harm of smoking became more well-known.

In 2006, Hawaii attempted to bring in a new tax that would allow 1.5 cents to go to cancer research for every single cigarette that was sold. Unfortunately, a typo in the legislation that was not spotted until after it had been passed by the local lawmakers meant that the tax only applied to a single cigarette rather than every one that is sold. This cost the researchers an estimated $8 million in lost funds.

A Cookbook Caused Outrage After Offensive Mistake

A Cookbook Caused Outrage Afte is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Typos That Had Huge Unexpected Consequences
Photo: Popo le Chien/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

A cookbook in Australia caused outrage in 2010 when a recipe on one of the pages substituted the word pepper for people in its instructions. The typo meant that the phrase now read “salt and freshly ground black people,” leading many people to complain about the mistake in The Pasta Bible.

While some felt that it was an innocent error, others accused the publisher of racism, prompting them to destroy all copies of the book they had in their warehouse – though they did not recall books that had already been sold.

The Wicked Bible Caused Outrage In 17th Century England

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Photo: Mactographer/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5

The “Wicked” Bible was a 1631 religious text that caused a great deal of uproar in the 17th century. This is because of the fact that it had a misprint in one particularly famous section that omitted the word “not” from one of the ten commandments so that it now read, “thou shalt commit adultery.”

When the error was discovered a year later, King Charles I ordered all copies of the Bible to be destroyed, fined the printers, and banned them from being able to publish any more books. Today, the Wicked Bibles are something of a collector’s item.

A Typo Cut Off Phone Services For Millions Of People

A Typo Cut Off Phone Services is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Typos That Had Huge Unexpected Consequences
Photo: Jason Thien/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

A misplaced character in any type of computer code can cause problems. However, they will generally only cause a few small issues and crashes on personal computers. In 1991, however, millions of people lost access to their phone lines after a typo.

Almost all telecommunication in the Baltimore region was disrupted for around two months. The cause of the problem was discovered to be that a “6” had been typed into a place where a “D” should have been. Honestly, this one kind of seems like it was on purpose. Those two characters are nowhere near each other on a keyboard.

A NASA Spacecraft Was Destroyed By A Missing Hyphen

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Photo: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Mariner 1 was the first spacecraft in a new program set up by NASA to explore Venus. Costing almost $17 million, it was destroyed just a few minutes after launch when officials realized that they had lost control after guidance systems were no longer working.

An investigation found that the failure was the result of a missing hyphen in the code. The incident became famous when Arthur C. Clarke referred to the Marine 1 as being “wrecked by the most expensive hyphen in history.”