The typographical error (typo) has plagued authors, journalists, and copywriters for many a century. As writers, the typo haunts our very dreams – just to see one on our blog or in our day job sends a shiver of horror down our spines.
They’re less common in journalism in the digital era. But for everything before that they were commonplace and much feared by editors across the world. Which is why this 2008 work from author and editor Martin Toseland is such a delightful read.
A Steroid Hit The Earth
One of the most famous examples of the typo remains with the Wicked Bible in 1631. This was supposed to be a standard print of books of the Bible, but in the Ten Commandments the adverb “not” wasn’t included.
“Thou shalt kill” etc. meant a whopping fine, a lot of controversy, burning of all copies, and outrage from even the King of England at the time.
More recently, on July 22nd 1962 NASA’s Mariner 1 (costing the equivalent of $630 million in modern funding) blew up five minutes after takeoff due to a missing hyphen in NASA’s coding.
In previous eras where typewriters were in effect, the typist would often overstrike the typo and continue on as normal. That would save them having to start an entire page again (and check out our guide on touch typing for some history there).
Tom Hanks, as you can see in the clip above, is an enormous enthusiast for old school typewriters and has written and book and produced a documentary about them.
And yet the dreaded typo – it doth lurk never far away. And for decades on end, many journalists went to work each day terrified of making a gaff.
Toseland’s work stands as a compendium of the disastrous nature of overworked hacks, or a lack of proofreading, or the slip of the finger. Take this example:
"The Queen herself pissed graciously over the magnificent edifice."
You might notice there’s a slight problem them. An error that, circa 1500, probably would have ended in execution.
A Steroid Hit The Earth is, of course, another example from the eponymous work. And it’s very funny – one of those books you can read and laugh knowingly about with a friend.
As the typo is so legendary it’s enough to make grown men weep. Possibly. But it was a topic strong enough to lead to Typoman the indie game.
A Steroid Hit The Earth is slightly disappointing in that it doesn’t include snippets from the newspapers where the typos occurred. It’s just written out (possibly due to copywrite issues) and there’s no real indication of veracity apart from a brief source listing.
It’s not a major issue, but it does add to the rather stocking filler nature of the book. But it is a fun little read all the same – and amusing!
As it’s an enduring topic. We can also refer you to Just My Typo: From “Sinning with the Choir” to “The Untied States” (2014) by Drummond Moir as a more recent example.
Despite the arrival of the internet era, it doesn’t mean people are going to be less lazy or ignorant with regard to fundamental spelling.
Typos and spelling errors are all over the place online – especially in online forums such as Quora, Yahoo!, or only social network you dare to think of.
For journalists, it’s at least very easy to head into a content management system to update their copy. That banishes decades of paranoia over where the next typographical error will come from!
The typo will prevail. You may notice one on Professional Moron from time to time (heck, there’s probably one somewhere in this book review). Rest assured, we cry ourselves to sleep over every single one of them.
And if you make this grievous literary error, then so should you. But you can still get a great deal of schadenfreude delight from