Bad Typo Dept.

No typo is a good typo. I’ve had more than my share. In a long-ago article about Central Park, I referred to its bridal trail, which implies it is a place that brides, not horses, do their running.

Another memorable snafu wasn’t technically a typo, but it was still pretty terrible. For a profile of Catherine Abate, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Corrections, I took a brief tour of Rikers Island with Abate, hanging out while she chatted with guards, prisoners, etc. At one point, while describing how Abate greeted the prisoners and then listened to their various complaints, I wrote something like:

“Abate grasps their hands and cocks her ear …”

Shortly after the article was published, a reader pointed out how that sentence could be badly misread. (Talk about the Department of Corrections!)

And just the other day, I wrote a brief blog post about the American Economic Association’s annual meeting in New Orleans and the “virtual flood of press coverage” that came out of it. As a commenter named Brian soon wrote: “New Orleans and a ‘Flood’ of coverage? Groan…”

He was entirely right.

So I am as guilty, if not more so, as anyone of creating typos. But the following typo strikes me as worth pointing out, if only in the hopes that someone will fix it in a hurry. In my copy of today’s Times (yes, I still prefer the paper version, by a long shot), on the back page of the Business section is an “Information Directory” that helpfully offers the e-mail addresses and phone numbers for various Times departments, including:

Letters to the Editor
Public Editor

And also, if you really need to, you can contact the paper’s very top editors, whose e-mail addresses are listed under — and I quote:

The Editoprs.


Our local news stations' web site is notorious for horrible spelling and grammar. My all-time favorite is the story about a damaged bridge (emphasis added by me):

"A pickup truck pulling a trailer with a backhoe hit the bottom of the bride on Monday."

Poor girl.

Fred Beukema

When I was in an American History course in college, I wrote a paper on what the reaction to the film "Dr. Strangelove" can tell us about popular sentiment towards nuclear brinksmanship (short answer: they thought it was scary).

Anyway, at one point, I tried to write "..a growing public awareness..."

Except I misspelled public in the worst way possible. Thankfully Prof. Hietala has a sense of humor.

Bob Koblish

Saw a comment the other day on a listserv to which I subscribe -- someone spoke of "gelding the lily". Still shaking my head over that one.


Watch out spell check can bite you too...

The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO) front-page story on May 20, 2005, reprinted from The New York Times, was about how Iraq had issued a statement admitting fault in its war with Iran in the 1980s. The piece started off just fine, but when it jumped to page 8, all heck broke loose. Here's just one paragraph, to give you an idea of what the Gazette reported:

"Sunny resentment has hardened recently, with a leading Sunny cleric accusing a government militia, made up largely of Shelties, of carrying out mosque raids and killings. On Thursday, two Sunny groups called for the temporary closing of dozens of Bighead mosques as a protest."

Sunny, Sunni ... Sheltie, Shiite ... Bighead, Baghdad. It's all the same, right? The story referred to Saddam Hussein as "Sadden" Hussein; Saleh Mutlak as "Sale Mukluk"; and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Ayatollah "Royally" Khomeini. Our favorite: Farideh Farhi, a professor of Iranian politics, became "Frieda Fairy."

Rather than providing a detailed correction listing the embarrassing individual mistakes in the story, the Gazette opted to reprint a corrected version the next day.



"the one concerning New Orleans is a Freudian slip."

No, that's just a bad choice of words.


I caught a funny title mistake in a recent blog post about Andrea Jung being appointed to Apple's board of directors. The title was originally "Andrea Jung appointment to Apple board reflects impotance of women in tech market", and the post is still listed under that title under Google.

The author has since corrected 'impotance' to 'importance', but the funny part is that it also would have worked--in a very different way-- with 'impotence'.


"Winfield goes back to the wall. He hits his head on the wall -- and it rolls off! It's rolling all the way back to second base! This is a terrible thing for the Padres."

The great Jerry Coleman.


I was production manager (layout) for my college newspaper at one point. My fav mistake from that year was laying out a wire story about kidnappings? rapes? of Canadian students abroad directly next to the "Teach English Overseas" ad.

Totally did not realize it until it was in print.


My favorite typo (I hope): in the first line of a student paper summarizing an article on sex education policies, "It seems these days that sex is a spurt-of-the-moment thing."


My company's Outlook has a few custom websites for us to use embedded in the tool bar. One of these is as follows:

Electornic Pay Statements

If you're wondering, I work for a major publisher, so we should probably know how to spell electronic.


Re #4

I think Dubner has the definition in mind when he writes that the Abate "snafu wasn't technically a typo."


Most of these problems come not from inaccurate typing, but from indisciminately accepting the first suggestion the spell-checker gives.

In Australia we sometimes have a weekly show called Media Watch ( where they show the embarrassing typos and unfortunate combinations of stories & ads as well as showing up dishonesty or dubious ethics in the media.


At the paper I used to work for, I once wrote that county commissioners were considering making the Courthouse Square "available for pubic use one night a week."

Obviously, I'd meant to write "public use."


And the award for 'anticlimax of the year' goes to...


I've worked for public relations firms and government, or the public service. In both instances, I've removed "pubic" from the word processor dictionary at every computer I was assigned to for some period of time. You're right, spellcheck doesn't always pick up the typos, and I can't think of ones more embarrassing to the sources than

pubic relations


pubic service

You fill in any sentence parts before and/or after that and see what that turns into!

It'd also be an embarrassment, although a funny one, to indicate in my self-submitted profile that I'm a pubic servant.

Or how about pubic policies I'm working on?

Even outside of work context, it's a bad typo, like pubic displays of affection.

If I were any of you, I'd get that out of your computer dictionary as well... unless you work in the adult industry. :-)



Our local newspaper is relying too heavily on spell-check. Besides the usual "peak of the ocean" real estate blurbs they have included picture captions such as the one about the woman injured by her husband's "steal tipped" boots.

Microsoft's tenuous grip on the English language is no help either since it routinely confuses it's with its, does not recognize the subjunctive voice, and often wants to end if clauses with semi-colons instead of commas.

Joshua Heggen

Those aren't typos, they're just poorly chosen words.

Kenn Fong

When the word-processor replaced the typewriter, it became possible to decimate newspaper plants of copy editors and senior pressmen with buyouts and layoffs. At one time, four or more pairs of eyeballs vetted each piece of copy before it was set in type. In today's environment, the reader might be only the third person to read the copy.

Spell check is not the answer.

Mike L

Truffles from Bergdorf Goodman: "A decedent treat for any chocolate lover."

I alerted them that association with dead people might turn away potential truffle buyers, but I've not received any response.

Alex Marsh

My favourite is the following, I think it was from the Guardian newspaper in the UK. They interviewed the manager of an English soccor team and quoted him saying "We had the worst team in the league last year and I know we'll have the worst team in the league next year."

The following day they had to apologise. The manager had been drinking a cup of tea from the club restuarant and actually said "we had the worst tea in the league".