When you think of typos, you think of grammar and poor middle school grades. It’s hard to imagine that in this day and age a typo of any serious consequence can make it through the cracks, with spell-check being an automatic feature in most email services and office software. However, some typos in recent years have made it into the news, albeit sometimes under unusual circumstances. The typo, it seems, will likely never go away completely because its very existence is a reflection of the human element in everyday life. It usually also seems like the consequences of some of these more influential typos result in some people winning some people losing. Is it karma or luck? Here are some of the more expensive and prominently featured typos and errors in the last decade or so.
New York City’s Million Dollar Typo
A New York City Department of Education bookkeeping error resulted in double spending in the city’s transportation fund. This misspelling turned out to be a word that contained an extra letter and was not readable by the accounting software in use. It was revealed by City Comptroller William Thompson during an audit in June 2006, that this mistake resulted in $2.8 million being spent in what was only supposed to be $1.4 million earmarked for transportation. The city had to make up the difference.
Canada’s 2 Million Dollar Comma Typo
In August 2006, a missed comma may have become the most costly piece of punctuation in Canadian history. A court ordered Rogers Communications Inc. to pay an extra $2.13 million to use utility poles in the Maritimes after the placement of a comma in a contract permitted the deal’s cancellation. Rogers thought it had a five year deal with Aliant, Inc to construct thousands of Rogers’ cables across utility poles throughout the Maritimes for an annual rate of $9.60/per pole. However, in 2005, one year after the contract was signed, Aliant, Inc, armed with the rules of grammar and punctuation, cancelled the contract and notified Rogers that the rate was increasing to $28.05.
The construction of a single sentence in the 14 page contract allowed the entire deal to be scrapped with only one year’s notice, the company argued. Rogers rebutted they never would have signed a contract to use roughly 91,000 utility poles that could be cancelled on such short notice. “This is clearly not what the parties intended,” Rogers said in a letter to the CRTC. But the CRTC disagreed. And the consequences are significant. The company will likely end up paying $2.13 million more than expected based on rough calculations. “Based on the rules of punctuation,” the comma in question “allows for the termination of the [contract] at any time, without cause, upon one year’s written notice,” the regulator said.
Typo awards $50 Million in prizes instead of $1000.
In July 2007 A Roswell, New Mexico-based car dealership sent out 50,000 scratch-off ads each as $1000.00 winners. Touting a grand prize of $1,000 (which was to be 1 in 50,000), these cards were incorrectly printed by an Atlanta-based Force Events Direct Marketing Co. The result was 50,000 crazed locals who thought they had each won the grand prize, calling the dealership to cash-in. Realizing that a $50,000,000 pay-off was neither intended or realistic, this unnamed dealership has offered to hand out $5 Wal-Mart gift cards in exchange for the misprinted scratchers, which equaled a paltry $250,000. Additionally, Force Events held a $5,000 drawing for anyone with a ticket, in an attempt to quell the immediate dissatisfaction of the townspeople, as well as a series of 20 other drawings – each with a $1,000 prize
Davilar: The $175 Million Chilean Typo
In 1994, then-copper trader Juan Pablo Davila was working for a Chilean government-owned Codelco Company, when a serious typo while trading online resulted in buying failing stocks instead of selling. During the nascent stages of Internet trading, this blunder was made worse by, when realizing his mistake; Davila went on a frenzy of buying and selling. The resultant loss of his actions caused the market such disruption, that by the end of it all, he had lost his company – and consequently, his country – roughly $175 million. At the time, this was equal to .5% of the country’s entire GNP. Thereupon, his name became a verb: a “Davilar” is now a screw up of royal proportions.
Fat Fingers Typo Cost Japanese Bank $340 Million
In September 2006, A trader at Mizuho Securities accidentally sold 610,000 shares in J-Com Co. (a job recruiting company) for 1 yen a piece, instead of 1 share at 610,000 yen. Unable to cancel the order Mizuho Securities has lost roughly $340 million as a result. Just think how lucky you would have been to purchase a few pieces of this stock! Attributed to “fat-finger” syndrome, which is stock trader slang for making large blunders, the trader’s name has not been made public (likely for security purposes). When Mizuho contacted the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the latter cited a glitch in its system that made this trade irrevocable. Discussions have occurred with the possibility of Mizuho and the TSE some how sharing the loss, but still no agreement has been reached.
Google Was A Typo
A Student at Stanford University, Sean Anderson accidentally helped Larry Page come up with the name and spelling of Google. While Page and Anderson were in Page’s office, the two were attempting to come up for a name for the would-be search behemoth. Sean had suggested verbally the word “googolplex”, spurning Page to shorten it to “googol”. Anderson then went to check the availability of the word, accidentally spelling it “Google” in an internet domain name registry. Available it was, and the company has decided to go with this spelling ever since. Whether or not the company has succeeded because of the name is subject to some speculation, it is very interesting to see what has become of a basic spelling error. It also goes to show that not all typos result in lives being ruined and/or financial turmoil, way to go Sean Anderson (although he now works for Microsoft).