9 of the Most Expensive Typos in the World
There’s no such thing as a harmless typo.
The eXXXotic Travel Firm
Cost of blunder: $10 million
In the 1988 Yellow Pages, an ad purchased by the Banner Travel agency was meant to espouse the company’s “exotic travel” options—instead, thanks to a typo by Pacific Bell, it advertised “erotic” travel destinations. Banner’s owner said the error cost her 80 per cent of her business (primarily elderly customers) and was not assuaged when Bell waived the ad’s $230 monthly fee; she later sued for $10 million.
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NASA's Exploding Hyphen
Cost of blunder: $18.5 million in 1962 dollars (nearly $150 million today)
It was 1962: America’s space race against the Soviet Union was in full flight, and NASA was preparing to launch Mariner 1, an $18.5 million probe bound for Venus on the nation’s very first planetary mission. Official accounts dispute what caused the prodigious probe to veer dangerously off course seconds after launch—some cite a missing hyphen in the guidance code, others a missing decimal—but the results are well documented. Mariner 1 lost contact, lost control, and was ordered to be blown up 293 seconds after launch. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke dubbed the missing punctuation “the most expensive hyphen in history.”
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Best Lottery Ever
Cost of blunder: $30 million (or $250,000 at Walmart)
It was supposed to be a simple publicity stunt. In 2005, the Roswell Honda car dealership mailed 30,000 scratch-off tickets to potential customers, one of which was supposed to be worth a $1,000 grand prize. Unfortunately, someone at the Force Events marketing company who handled the tickets misread the rules, and nobody caught the mistake during the proofreading process. Thus, 30,000 shoppers received their tickets—all of them grand-prize winners. Unable to honour the $30 million payout they owed their customers, Roswell Honda instead offered a $5 Walmart gift card for each winning ticket.
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The Son Who Ruined an Empire
Cost of blunder: 8.8 million pounds (about $17 million)
How does a thriving, 124-year-old family business with 250 employees go out of business in two short months? Blame the letter “s.” In 2015 the British government’s registrar of companies reported that Taylor & Sons, a family engineering business established in 1875, was being liquidated. The problem: it wasn’t. In fact, a completely different company named Taylor and Son (no ’s’ at the end) had gone belly-up, and the registrar didn’t catch the difference in spelling. Though the typo was corrected within three days, the damage to Taylor & Sons' credibility was irreparable. Two months later they were, indeed, out of business—and a court found the government liable for the equivalent of a roughly $17 million legal bill.
The Curse of The Antique Ale
Cost of blunder: $502,996
An eBay user learned the hard way that fortune (and spelling) can be fickle when he decided to auction a rare bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, brewed in 1852 and perfectly preserved. The museum-quality artifact of historical hooch should have fetched a small fortune from enthusiasts—if only the seller had spelled the name correctly. Accidentally labeled as “Allsop’s” (missing the second ’p’) in the auction title, the item did not appear when buyers searched for the beer by its proper name, resulting in a mere two bids and a lackluster sale at $304 ($5 more than the original $299 asking price). Eight weeks later, the lucky buyer listed the same bottle on eBay, though spelled correctly this time. After receiving 157 bids, the bottle sold for $503,300.
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The Epic International Airfare
Cost of blunder: $7 million
In 2006, Alitalia Airlines mistakenly listed a deal on flights from Toronto to Cyprus for a scant $39. They meant to say “$3,900,” but by the time the error could be corrected some 2,000 passengers had already booked flights at the epically low rate. Fearing the fallout of cancelling those tickets, Alitalia decided to let their customers get away with the bargain—costing the company more than $7 million in losses.
The Map of Lies
Cost of blunder: $500,000
The New York City subway system is not exactly celebrated for its precision as of late, but the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) may have suffered its most embarrassing blunder in 2013. The MTA printed about 80,000 new subway maps that March to inform riders that the minimum balance on pay-per-ride cards had been increased from $4.50 to $5.00. Unfortunately, someone forgot to type that. All $250,000 worth of maps stated the new pay-per-ride price was...still $4.50. MTA scrambled to retrieve as many of the faulty maps as possible, and was forced to reprint the entire run.
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The Comma That Crippled an Empire
Cost of blunder: $38 million +
Twenty years before the word “typo” even entered English, the U.S. government made an epic one. In an 1872 attempt to recover America’s post-Civil-War economy, Ulysses S. Grant’s administration passed a tariff act that imposed a 20 per cent tax on most foreign imports. There were some exceptions, the bill said, including “fruit, plants tropical and semi-tropical for the purpose of cultivation.” The problem? The bill was only supposed to exempt “fruit-plants,” not fruit AND plants as that stray comma implied. When importers took advantage and insisted that their fruit should pass into the country tax-free as the letter of the law decreed, the government was forced to refund roughly $2 million in duties—or about $40 million by today’s standards.
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The Typo You Made This Morning
Cost of blunder: $487 million per year
If you’re starting to feel smug right now, consider that even your everyday typos come at a price. Google could be earning close to half a billion dollars per year through typos, thanks to well-placed advertisements on commonly misspelled URLs like “goggle.com” or “twittter.com.” It’s a practice called “typosquatting,” and is mostly just a harmless way to capitalize on web users’ typos by directing them to ads. However, just-slightly-misspelled versions of popular sites can also be prime stages for launching cyberattacks. Remember to always double-check what you type. If you don’t, it could cost you.