Weird News

Notorious Spelling Mistakes: Famous Mashed Words

May 7, 2010 – 3:00 PM
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Chris Epting

Chris Epting Contributor

(May 7) -- And you thought spelling only mattered in spelling bees and Scrabble games.

Turns out, typos and misspellings cost time, reputations -- and lots of money.
Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus (shoes left) stands on her star, with corrected spelling, at her Walk of Fame star ceremony, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, May 4, 2010.
Robyn Beck, AFP / Getty Images
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (shoes left) stands on her star, with corrected spelling, at her Walk of Fame star ceremony, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The actress's name was initially misspelled on her star, with the "o" in "Louis" and the hyphen before "Dreyfus" both missing.

This week, workers botched the spelling of actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus' name while crafting her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, forgetting the "o" in "Louis" and leaving out the hyphen between "Louis" and "Dreyfus." Masons hurried to correct the mistake just hours before a ceremony honoring the "Seinfeld" star, replacing the typo with a properly spelled, though slightly mismatching, nameplate.

"The misspelling was so perfectly apt, a great metaphor for show business," she said. "Right when you think you've made it, you get knocked down."

Though embarrassing, the typo actually left Louis-Dreyfus in good company. Walk of Fame honoree Dick Van Dyke's name was butchered into "Vandyke" in 1993.

But these Hollywood misspellings pale in comparison to a spelling gaffe that famed science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once called "the most expensive hyphen in history."

In 1962, a programmer forgot to insert a mathematical symbol into a computer code, resulting in the Mariner 1 space probe being destroyed several minutes into its mission rather than making it to Venus, its intended destination.

That typing goof cost about $80 million, but back on Earth other spelling mistakes have also sent cash into black holes.

In 2007, a car dealership in Roswell, N.M., tried to mail 50,000 scratch-and-win cards to potential customers -- with one grand prize of $1,000. Unfortunately for the car dealership, each card was a grand-prize winner, resulting in what would have been a $50 million typo. Unable to pay up, the dealership sent out $5 Wal-Mart gift cards in exchange for the misprinted tickets.

And just last year, Chilean engraver Pedro Urzua Lizana inadvertently left out the bottom part of the letter L while re-creating his nation's 50-peso coin, turning the word "CHILE" into "CHIIE." Sure, he got fired, but that didn't stop 1.5 million problem coins from being released into public circulation.

Some typos are less costly, but no less embarrassing.

In 2004, an artist constructing a mural at a library -- of all places -- botched the spellings of some famous names, including Einstein, Shakespeare, Van Gogh and Michelangelo. Artist Maria Alquilar fixed the names but was unapologetic about the spelling mistakes on the $40,000 ceramic mural, which was installed at a new city library in Livermore, Calif.

"They are denigrating my work and the purpose of this work," she said back then. "The people that are into humanities, and are into Blake's concept of enlightenment, they are not looking at the words. In their mind, the words register correctly."

Typos seem to have a special place in America's national pastime.

In 2008, a statue honoring legendary Chicago Cub Ernie Banks outside of Wrigley Field butchered the ballplayer's famed quote "Let's play two!" The quip, referring to Banks' desire to play a double-header due to his sheer love of the game, was etched in as "Lets play two!," omitting the apostrophe.

The following year, baseball witnessed a giant typo when San Francisco Giants outfielder Eugenio Velez ran out on the field sporting a jersey reading "San Francicso." Later in the season, Washington Nationals players Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn were given uniforms missing an "o" in "Natinals." Majestic, the company that made the jerseys, had no comment.

And just this week, when Atlanta Braves skipper Bobby Cox traveled to Washington, D.C., for a ceremony honoring him in his last season, he was greeted with a cake bearing this message: "Thanks for 50 great years Bobby Cocks."

Funny or not, some typos turn out to be fortuitous.

Google wouldn't have its name if someone hadn't botched its original moniker. Playing off the term "googolplex," a Stanford University student suggested the search engine be named "Googol." But when checking the availability of the word as an Internet domain, the student misspelled it "Google." The company decided to leave it as it was, even after realizing the error.

Perhaps the mother of all typos happened on June 15, 1992, in a Trenton, N.J., classroom, when sixth-grader William Figueroa stood in front of his class and spelled the word P-O-T-A-T-O on the board -- only to have then Vice President Dan Quayle "correct" him by having him add an "E" at the end. How important was the typo in defining Quayle as a clueless politician? In his 1994 memoir, he dedicated an entire chapter to it.

What's the moral of the story? Use spell check.
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