Writing Wednesday: 10 Extreme Cases of Costly Missing Punctuation

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If you’ve ever found yourself swept up in the “serial comma” debate, you’re likely familiar with the intensity of opinions that can arise from this seemingly simple piece of punctuation. However, as the Times of London can attest, sometimes a comma really is worth all that fuss and discussion. After all, this is what happened when they blindly followed the “no Oxford comma” rule in their story about a Peter Ustinov documentary:

Even though we at the Endpaper Blog do not use the serial comma, we love this example of why it’s always so important to proofread. So if, like us, you don’t want to add that comma before the “and,” at least try to reorder your sentence before you accidentally slander an anti-Apartheid hero! Here are nine more hilariously unfortunate punctuation mistakes to help drive home the importance of double-checking before publication.

A Missing Hyphen

A missing hyphen or dash in a series of NASA code resulted in the crash-upon-takeoff of the Mariner 1 probe in 1962.

A Forgotten Period

Sorry legal drivers, this parking lot is for illegal doings, only!

A “Wicked Bible”

When King Charles I received his newly printed order of Bibles (1000 of them) he was outraged to see that the word “not” had been somehow left out of the Seventh Commandment, meaning his namesake holy books ordered the committing the sin of adultery, rather than forbidding it.

An Ignored “p”

It was clear that this eBay seller didn’t appreciate the rare bottle of beer he was offering when he listed it like this: “allsop’s arctic ale.full and corked with a wax seal.” If he had taken the time to correctly spell “Allsopp” then perhaps collectors would have created a bidding war and netted him a $500,000 payday, just like they did when the person (one of only two bidders) who bought the bottle from him for $304 put it back up for auction with the name spelled correctly.

Spellcheck Bests The Pasta Bible

Penguin Publishing was forced to destroy 7000 copies of The Pasta Bible after it was found that the Australian edition called for “freshly ground black people,” rather than the more common ingredient: pepper.

Another Missing Comma

It’s unlikely that this man was referring to an online community of cannibals when he wrote this post:

A Hidden Letter

An unreadable hidden letter in a computer program used by the New York City Department of Education resulted in $2.8 million being spent on the city’s school system, rather than the allotted $1.4 million. As a result, NYC was on the hook for double the initial budget.

The Original “Davilar”

On the television show Friends it’s called “pulling a Monica,” but in the land of high finance a monumental blunder is referred to as a “Davilar.” The man behind the term was Juan Pablo Davilar who, as a copper-trader for the Chilean government–owned Codelco Company, committed a costly typo and accidentally bought a whole bunch of failing stocks rather than selling them. When he realised his mistake and began buying and selling at an increasingly erratic pace, the entire market went into a frenzy, resulting in a $175 million loss to his company and, thus, to the country of Chile.

An X-Rated Typo

A California travel agency was surprised when they attracted an unexpected new type of clientele after placing an ad in the Yellow Pages. Rather than showcasing their expertise in booking vacation packages to exotic destinations, the phonebook printers accidentally listed them as specialising in “erotic” trips. It’s estimated that the company lost 80% of their business, and probably gained the same amount in prank calls and “heavy breathers.”

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