Typos can be embarrassing. They can also be costly. And not just for those individuals whose jobs depend on knowing the difference between “it’s” and “its” or where a comma is most appropriate. Last weekend, bauble-loving Texans got the deal of a lifetime when a misprint in a Macy’s mailer advertised a $1500 necklace for just $47. (It should have read $497.) It didn’t take long for the entire inventory to be zapped, at a loss of $450 a pop to the retail giant. (Not to mention plenty of faces as red as the star in the company’s logo.)
Google, on the other hand, loves a good typing transposition. Not only is the mega-search engine’s own name a happy accident (it was supposed to be Googol; the domain name was incorrectly registered), but Harvard University researchers claim that the company earns about $497 million each year from everyday people mistyping the names of popular websites and landing on “typosquatter” sites… which just happen to be littered with Google ads. (Ka-ching!)
Here are 10 other costly typos that give the phrase “economy of words” new meaning.
1. NASA’S MISSING HYPHEN
The damage: $80 million
Hyphens don’t usually score high on the list of most important punctuation. But a single dash led to absolute failure for NASA in 1962 in the case of Mariner 1, America’s first interplanetary probe. The mission was simple: get up close and personal with close neighbor Venus. But a single missing hyphen in the coding used to set trajectory and speed caused the craft to explode just minutes after takeoff. 2001: A Space Odyssey novelist Arthur C. Clarke called it “the most expensive hyphen in history.”
2. THE CASE OF THE ANTIQUE ALE
The damage: $502,996
A missing ‘P’ cost one sloppy (and we’d have to surmise ill-informed) eBay seller more than half-a-mill on the 150-year-old beer he was auctioning. Few collectors knew a bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale was up for bid, because it was listed as a bottle of Allsop’s Arctic Ale. One eagle-eyed bidder hit a payday of Antiques Roadshow proportions when he came across the rare booze, purchased it for $304, then immediately re-sold it for $503,300.
3. THE BIBLE PROMOTES PROMISCUITY
The damage: $4590 (and eternal damnation)
Not even the heavenly father is immune to occasional inattention to detail. In 1631, London’s Baker Book House rewrote the 10 Commandments when a missing word in the seventh directive declared, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Parliament was not singing hallelujah; they declared that all erroneous copies of the Good Book—which came to be known as “The Wicked Bible”—be destroyed and fined the London publisher 3000 pounds.
4. PASTA GETS RACIST
The damage: $20,000
A plate of tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto would typically only be offensive to a vegetarian’s senses. But an unfortunate blunder in The Pasta Bible, published by Penguin Australia in 2010, recommended seasoning the dish with “salt and freshly ground black people.” Though no recall was made of the books already in circulation, the printer quickly destroyed all 7000 remaining copies in its inventory. Read More…
Because grammar and spelling checkers are software programs, they can’t read your mind or know your intentions. They also frequently cannot distinguish between correct and incorrect sentence structures and the use of words that sometimes confuse us humans. Below are 10 places in which your software may be suggesting errors rather than correcting them.
Eric, thanks for writing this article. [The comma after Eric’s name is correct because we are addressing him directly.]Dave, in the employee version, add an example here. [My checker suggested changing add to adds–wrong!]Lynn, may we have permission to print your material? [It suggested that I capitalize may as a month, which is incorrect, of course!]
When you write to Mark about the program in Kansas City, be sure he understands that it is in Missouri.
If you want to help employees improve their writing, use this guide.
Any files beginning with 000 need to be moved to the C drive. [Need is correct–not needs.]Thank you for letting us know about your shopping experience. [Know is correct–not knows!]
The average number of words per sentence is 15 to 20. [The verb is is correct; are would be wrong.]
Understand that some experts say that “persuade” and “convince” are synonyms that go back at least to the sixteenth century. The meanings are so closely knit that often one word serves as well as the other.
After ‘persuade’ we use the structure
to + infinitive:
- I persuaded them to stay for another drink.
- He persuaded her not to take the job.
After ‘convince’ we cannot use a verb infinitive. We say ‘convince someone that‘:
- She convinced the police that she was telling the truth.
- He convinced her that it was the right thing to do.
Both of the above sentence would also be correct without ‘that’:
- She convinced the police she was telling the truth.
- He convinced herit was the right thing to do.
Although Robert finally persuaded his girlfriend to move abroad with him, she was not fully convinced that it was the best thing to do.
In the example, Robert’s girlfriend was persuaded (to move) but was not convinced (that it was the correct decision). So, we can see that when we persuade someone to do something it doesn’t always mean that we have also convinced that person.
The teenager is convinced she can win. The boy was persuaded to run the 10-yard dash.
One more thing is worth mentioning about ‘persuade’ and ‘convince’. If we are absolutely sure about something, we say I’m convinced:
– Are you sure he’s innocent?
– Yes, I’m convinced. NOT
Some related words:
convincing (adjective) It was a convincing argument.
persuasive (adjective) Marta can be very persuasive when she wants.
persuasion (noun) He used his powers of persuasion.
When confronted with issues of word choice, I often find it helpful to consider the associations and connotations a word has in its different forms. A convincing person or argument is one that other people cannot help but agree with, whereas a persuasive person or argument is one that other people find compelling, but which leaves more room (in my mind) for the opportunity to disagree.
If you have been convinced, you have clearly and decisively changed your perspective. If you have been persuaded, then you have chosen to agree with those you previously disagreed with. In the latter case, it may not be so much that you’ve found an argument you agree with so much as you’re indulging someone who has appealed to you, either positively or negatively.
Prefer “convince” when the change of opinion must be definite or to deemphasize the role of whomever did the convincing. Prefer “persuade” to draw attention to either the arguments used or the individuals doing the arguing, to emphasize reluctance on the part of the persuaded, or when you need the word to contain more vowels.
Just another note about the challenges of the English language. Why “a unique…” rather than “an unique…”?
When a “u” word is pronounced as though it begins with a “y” (yoo nique), it’s treated more like the consonant sound of the y.
- a university;
- an umbrella;
- a usual day;
- an unusual day.
Have you ever wondered “Should I put this into my sentence…or that, or…wait a minute, what was the difference?
Today we will have a look at the abilities, capabilities or capacities.
If someone has ability, a particular ability, or the ability to do something, they can do it because they have the skill or the knowledge that is needed to do it. You often use ability to say that someone can do something well:
He had remarkable ability as an administrator.
There are four main factors which determine mathematical ability.
…the ability to bear hardship.
A person’s capability is the amount of work they can do and how well they can do it.
The director has his own ideas both of the role and of the capability of the actor.
It was, in any case, beyond the capability of one man
If someone has a particular capacity, a capacity for something, or a capacity to do something, they have the characteristics required to do it. Capacity is a more formal word than ability.
…their capacity for being inspired by heroes.
…his capacity always to see the other’s point of view.
A bit but now you know it.
Your newbie Grammar guide,