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Typo n. pl. -os. Informal. A typographical error.Typographical error. A mistake in printing, typing or writing.That's what it says in the New College Edition of The AmericanHeritage Dictionary of the ...

Typo n. pl. -os. Informal. A typographical error.
Typographical error. A mistake in printing, typing or writing.

That's what it says in the New College Edition of The American
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. But it does not
begin to tell the story of these mistakes - these embarrassing,
costly, terrible typos. I know -- from collecting them, and from
personal experience.

I have used these examples as warnings during 30 years of
teaching at UCLA Extension, showing that typos are the bane of a
writer's existence - whether you are a reporter, public
relations practitioner, or author.

Years ago I came across a typo that I still consider to be the
funniest and most embarrassing typo in human history, as far as
I know. Many considered it terrible. It was probably also one
of the costliest, if not the costliest.

It occurred in London, in 1632, with the printing of Baker's
edition of the Bible, known ever since as the "Wicked Bible."
The Seventh Commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery,"
suddenly appeared in a revised version, "Thou shalt commit

I suspect that this made a number of people in England very
happy. But their happiness was short-lived. When the mistake
was discovered, Parliament ordered all obtainable editions
destroyed, fined the printer 3000 pounds, and forbade all
unauthorized printings of the Bible henceforth.

This delicious bit of news came to light in an article by
Edward G. de Beaumont, about all kinds of typos. It appeared in
the May/June 1980 issue of Editors Workshop. The author
apparently agreed that the "Wicked Bible" typo took the prize,
because he titled his article, "Thou Shalt (not) Commit

"Proofread, proofread, proofread, again, and again and again,"
I harangue my students. "Read your stuff over, two, three
times. Better still, get someone else who can spell and
punctuate to proof-read what you have written, also."

I'm sure Pacific Bell wishes somebody had done that - one final
time, some years ago. Their Yellow Pages carried an ad for
Banner Travel Service, in Sonoma, California. The firm, which
specializes in "exotic" travel, suddenly found itself
specializing in "erotic" travel, due to a tiny typo. This not
only resulted in unwelcome ridicule but also a substantial drop
in business, as former clients stayed away. Pacific Bell waived
its $230 monthly fee, but that did not prevent the initiation of
a $10 million lawsuit. I never saw a follow-up story, so I
don't know what the outcome was.

But I do know the outcome of something that happened when I was
editor of the Torrance Press, a weekly newspaper in the Los
Angeles area. The advertising department was jubilant when it
landed a two-page double truck (two-page) ad from the Sealy
mattress company. The ad carried the company's slogan in big,
bold, black letters: "Sleeping on a Sealy, Is Like Sleeping on
a Cloud." But something happened in translation from copy to
print. That Thursday morning, thousands of readers were
introduced to a new slogan: "Sleeping on a Sealy, Is Like
Slipping on a Cloud." The paper, of course, offered to make
good. The following week, readers discovered a revised message:
"Sleeping on a Sealy, Is Like Sleeping on a Clod." That was the
end of what we had hoped would be a long-term heavenly

I was glad, that week, to be in editorial and not in
advertising. Still, I have committed my fair share of typos
over the years. In a book chapter on writing I wrote:

Good Public Relations writing, like good journalistic writing,
should be clear, simple, economical. Short words, short
sentences, short paragraphs. Simple rather than complex words.
One word rather than two words. The precise word instead of a
fuselage of words.

Fuselage of words? Ooops! The precise word should have been:
fusillade of words! That booboo finally got corrected in a new

Years ago, I learned of an intriguing Chinese cultural custom.
I don't know if it still exists. When a Chinese person wrote a
letter, the writer always made one deliberate spelling mistake.
This was meant as a sign of humility, to acknowledge that the
writer did not consider himself a perfect human being. Other
cultures have similar customs, leaving works flawed to show that
only God is perfect.

Frankly, I don't have to go out of my way to prove that I am a
flawed and imperfect human being. I have left plenty of
unintended typos in my wake, that prove the point. My most
embarrassing one? It occurred in the author biography at the
end of my biblical novel, "AbrahamFeature Articles, The Dreamer/An Erotic and
Sacred Love Story." In the first line of the biography I left
out the "t" in Gompertz. I misspelled my own name! It also
slipped by me in the proofreading!

Article Tags: Terrible Typos, Thou Shalt

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Rolf Gompertz is the author of four current books:"Abraham, The
Dreamer - An Erotic and Sacred Love Story," "A Jewish Novel
about Jesus," "Sparks of Spirit: How to Find Love and Meaning in
Your Life 24 Hours a Day," and a contemporary comedy-
drama/screenplay, "The Messiah of Midtown Park" (
). He lives in North Hollywood, CA. Mailto: .

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