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Words at Work

4 typo horror stories from the workplace

Stray letters can have a habit of working their way into (or sometimes being left out of) the most crucial of places, especially when there’s a lot at stake. Here are some examples — both big and small — of what can happen when you really screw up your spelling.

Example #1: The ‘State of the Uniom’

President Trump gave his first State of the Union address, but there was a glaring error on some of the tickets, according to POLITICO.

You guessed it: “State of the Uniom.”

The New York Times pointed out that the tickets called the “Visitors’ Gallery” the “Visitor’s Gallery.” A spokesman for the sergeant at arms to the Agence France-Presse that the ‘Uniom’ gaffe “was corrected immediately, and our office is redistributing the tickets.”

Example #2: The typo left in a job application

Alison Green, author of the Ask a Manager blog, responded to a reader’s question about this. The reader wrote about how, after working hard on a resume and cover letter for a job at a non-profit, they sent the email with the attached materials to the president, but with an accidental typo. There was no “cancel button” to retrieve it, so the reader corrected and re-sent it in a panicked state. Green’s response, in part:

“Everyone makes a typo now and then. Your letter wasn’t littered with them; it was one typo — and then you corrected it. Now, some may say that the correction is overkill, but I would actually be a little bit charmed by your instant correction: Hiring managers are human, and we’ve all had that sickening feeling of realizing one second too late that we made a mistake on something. You spotted it, and you corrected it. Good — that’s what we want employees to do. (Personally, I don’t mind a little proofreading neurosis. Okay, I love it.)”

Example #3: The typo that gave us “Google”

A post by David Koller of the Stanford Computer Science Department & Computer Graphics Laboratory details how the Google we know came to be. He attributes the information to “friends and colleagues” who work where Google was founded on campus:

“In 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin called their initial search engine “BackRub,” named for its analysis of the web’s “back links.” … In 1997, Larry and his officemates discussed a number of possible new names for the rapidly improving search technology. Sean recalls the final brainstorming session as occurring one day during September of that year.

Sean and Larry were in their office … trying to think up a good name — something that related to the indexing of an immense amount of data. Sean verbally suggested the word “googolplex,” and Larry responded verbally with the shortened form, “googol” (both words refer to specific large numbers). Sean was seated at his computer terminal, so he executed a search of the Internet domain name registry database to see if the newly suggested name was still available for registration and use. Sean is not an infallible speller, and he made the mistake of searching for the name spelled as “google.com,” which he found to be available. Larry liked the name, and within hours he took the step of registering the name “google.com” for himself and Sergey.”

Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking: Why is this a bad thing? While it this isn’t necessarily a negative case, it shows how much of an effect a typo can have on a company.

Speaking of having an impact on an organization’s future …

Example #4: The typo that spelled the end of a 124-year-old company

Turns out, government agencies can face dire consequences for failing to get their lettering right.

The Guardian reports that UK government agency Companies House (which is the registrar of companies) wrongly listed Welsh engineering firm Taylor & Sons Ltd. as having “gone into liquidation” in 2009. It was 124 years old at the time.

The problem? They listed the wrong company — the company that went into liquidation was Taylor & Son Ltd., without an “s.” Companies House made the change in three days, but the typo had already caused huge trouble for the organization.

“Taylor & Sons’ business evaporated: orders were canceled, contracts were lost and credit from suppliers was withdrawn. The company subsequently went into administration, and was finally dissolved in 2014,” The Guardian reported.

The publication added that Companies House had to pay a claim — that the managing director’s lawyers said was £8.8m — after the company successfully sued for damages.

Whether you misspell something on a job application or official company documentation, one thing is abundantly clear: Typos and punctuation mistakes can have the profound potential to make or break you, so always be sure to check your work.

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