Watch Out For Typos — They Can Make You Look Stoopid

We’ve all made typos – those pesky errors that sneak into our writing when we hit the wrong key or suffer a momentary lapse in concentration. That’s why we have smart programs such as spellchecker and autocorrect, which were created to make our jobs easier. When autocorrect, for example, comes across a sentence like “The Sixth Cense is my favorite movie by M. Night Shyamalan,” it automatically corrects it to “The Sixth Sense is my favorite movie by M. Night Shy Melon.”

As you can see, proofreading is very important, otherwise your writing might be full of very embracing errors. You might even have to apologize publicly for a typo, as many individuals and organizations have been forced to do throughout history. Indeed, when Moses first brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, they seemed to contain a decree against skin lightening creams: “Thou shalt not bear false whiteness.”

A more recent example comes from the University of Texas at Austin, where the 2012 commencement program distributed to students stated that they were graduating from the “Lyndon B. Johnson School of Pubic Affairs.”

The university apparently learned about the mistake when a student asked if the graduation ceremony was open to the general pubic.

The university should take a lesson from other educators, such as the teachers union in Twin Rivers Unified School District in California which recently sent out a flyer with this important message: “Twin Rivers teachers are strong supporters of Parent-Teacher partnerships — to assure that parents and teachers work together to educaate our children.”

The correct word, as even George W. Bush will tell you, is “educumate.”

Some years ago, The Torrance Press, a weekly newspaper in California, accepted an ad from Sealy mattress company carrying the slogan: “Sleeping on a Sealy is like sleeping on a cloud.” But when the ad appeared in the paper, it read: “Sleeping on a Sealy is like slipping on a cloud.” The newspaper apologized and agreed to print the ad again at no charge. It re-appeared the following week: “Sleeping on a Sealy is like sleeping on a clod.”

There’s an important lesson here: To embarrass an entire organization, all it takes is one clod.

At least those errors weren’t particularly offensive. Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa got into trouble in 2008 for a calendar entry in its school handbook. The entry for Feb. 16, 2009 (during Black History Month) was supposed to say “Black History Lunch and Learn,” but instead appeared as “Black History Linch and Learn.”

It was a little too close to the word “lynch” for anyone’s comfort. But all it took was a slip of the finger for that typo to occur. Much harder to explain is the error that caused Penguin Books Australia to destroy 7,000 copies of its cookbook The Pasta Bible in 2010. The publisher had to apologize after a recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto listed among its ingredients “salt and freshly ground black people.”

The publisher apparently learned of the mistake when a diligent reader sent an email to the author: “Regarding your recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto, would it be okay to substitute a white person?”

Back in 2007, CNN had to apologize for a graphic it used during a piece about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The graphic asked the question: “Where’s Obama?” Producers at the network realized their mistake when they received hundreds of calls from astute viewers informing them on the whereabouts of Obama. “I just spotted him in Chicago,” one man said. “Don’t worry, he wasn’t looking at any tall buildings.”

Four years later, when bin Laden was killed, a Fox News affiliate in Sacramento ran a “Breaking News” graphic that said: “Reports: Obama bin Laden Killed.”

The station’s producers realized their mistake when an alert viewer called them. “He isn’t dead!” the woman said. “I just saw him on the news, taking credit for killing some guy named Osama.”

As you can see, typos can be both offensive and embarrassing. That’s why, even in the age of Twitter, it’s important to carefully proofread what we write. Otherwise, like the University of Texas at Austin, we’ll get what we deserve: a lot of pubic ridicule.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. Hilarious article. Recently, I came to know that Osama is a very progressive individual who is all for same sex marriage.

  2. Hmm. Check you second paragraph for this: “As you can see, proofreading is very important, otherwise your writing might be full of very embracing errors. ” Embracing, embarrassing….! LOL

  3. When I was a Boy Scout, I always wore swim trunks in the shower to avoid pubic ridicule.

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