11 of the Most Expensive Typos in the World
There’s no such thing as a harmless typo.
Billion-dollar butterfinger blunder
A house built in Wasatch County, Utah was recorded in 2019 tax rolls with a value just shy of one billion dollars, an overestimate of about $543 million. According to Wasatch County Assessor Maureen “Buff” Griffiths, a staff member may have dropped a phone on a computer keyboard, creating the typo that caused a countywide overvaluation of $6 million dollars. The overvaluation led to revenue shortfalls in five different Wasatch County taxing entities, for which taxpayers are on the hook until 2023. You won’t believe these real newspaper typos that made it to print.
Cost of blunder: $543 million
An “exotic travel” firm
In the 1988 Yellow Pages, an ad purchased by the Banner Travel agency was meant to espouse the company’s “exotic travel” options—instead, thanks to a typo by Pacific Bell, it advertised “erotic” travel destinations. Banner’s owner said the error cost her 80 percent of her business (primarily elderly customers) and was not assuaged when Bell waived the ad’s $230 monthly fee; she later sued for $10 million. We bet you’ve never noticed this typo on the Lincoln Memorial before.
Cost of blunder: $10 million
NASA’s exploding hyphen
It was 1962: America’s space race against the Soviet Union was in full flight, and NASA was preparing to launch Mariner 1, an $18.5 million probe bound for Venus on the nation’s very first planetary mission. Official accounts dispute what caused the prodigious probe to veer dangerously off course seconds after launch—some cite a missing hyphen in the guidance code, others a missing decimal—but the results are well documented. Mariner 1 lost contact, lost control, and was ordered to be blown up 293 seconds after launch. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke dubbed the missing punctuation “the most expensive hyphen in history.” These are the 14 grammar myths your English teacher lied to you about.
Cost of blunder: $18.5 million in 1962 dollars (nearly $150 million today)
Best lottery ever
It was supposed to be a simple publicity stunt. In 2005, the Roswell Honda car dealership mailed 30,000 scratch-off tickets to potential customers, one of which was supposed to be worth a $1,000 grand prize. Unfortunately, someone at the Force Events marketing company who handled the tickets misread the rules, and nobody caught the mistake during the proofreading process. Thus, 30,000 shoppers received their tickets—all of them grand-prize winners. Unable to honor the $30 million payout they owed their customers, Roswell Honda instead offered a $5 Walmart gift card for each winning ticket. Find out about the typo the New York Times ran every day—for 102 years.
Cost of blunder: $30 million (or $250,000 at Walmart)
The son who ruined an empire
How does a thriving, 124-year-old family business with 250 employees go out of business in two short months? Blame the letter “s.” In 2015 the British government’s registrar of companies reported that Taylor & Sons, a family engineering business established in 1875, was being liquidated. The problem: it wasn’t. In fact, a completely different company named Taylor and Son (no ’s’ at the end) had gone belly-up, and the registrar didn’t catch the difference in spelling. Though the typo was corrected within three days, the damage to Taylor & Sons’ credibility was irreparable. Two months later they were, indeed, out of business—and a court found the government liable for the equivalent of a roughly $17 million legal bill. That price is no joke, but these 10 spelling mistakes that are painfully funny are.
Cost of blunder: 8.8 million pounds (about $17 million)
The curse of the antique ale
An eBay user learned the hard way that fortune (and spelling) can be fickle when he decided to auction a rare bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, brewed in 1852 and perfectly preserved. The museum-quality artifact of historical hooch should have fetched a small fortune from enthusiasts—if only the seller had spelled the name correctly. Accidentally labeled as “Allsop’s” (missing the second ’p’) in the auction title, the item did not appear when buyers searched for the beer by its proper name, resulting in a mere two bids and a lackluster sale at $304 ($5 more than the original $299 asking price). Eight weeks later, the lucky buyer listed the same bottle on eBay, though spelled correctly this time. After receiving 157 bids, the bottle sold for $503,300. These fake words actually ended up in the dictionary.
Cost of blunder: $502,996
The epic international airfare
In 2006, Alitalia Airlines mistakenly listed a deal on flights from Toronto to Cyprus for a scant $39. They meant to say “$3,900,” but by the time the error could be corrected some 2,000 passengers had already booked flights at the epic low rate. Fearing the fallout of canceling those tickets, Alitalia decided to let their customers get away with the bargain —costing the company more than $7 million in losses. If these typos make you giggle, you’ll also love these 20 grammar jokes only word nerds will understand.
Cost of blunder: $7 million
The map of lies
The New York City subway system is not exactly celebrated for its precision as of late, but the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) may have suffered its most embarrassing blunder in 2013. The MTA printed about 80,000 new subway maps that March to inform riders that the minimum balance on pay-per-ride cards had been increased from $4.50 to $5.00. Unfortunately, someone forgot to type that. All $250,000 worth of maps stated the new pay-per-ride price was… still $4.50. MTA scrambled to retrieve as many of the faulty maps as possible and was forced to reprint the entire run. Don’t miss these 12 grammatical errors even smart people make.
Cost of blunder: $500,000
The comma farming crisis
planet_w lee n kim/Shutterstock
Twenty years before the word “typo” even entered English, the U.S. government made an epic one. In an 1872 attempt to recover America’s post-Civil-War economy, Ulysses S. Grant’s administration passed a tariff act that imposed a 20 percent tax on most foreign imports. There were some exceptions, the bill said, including “fruit, plants tropical and semi-tropical for the purpose of cultivation.” The problem? The bill was only supposed to exempt “fruit-plants,” not fruit AND plants as that stray comma implied. When importers took advantage and insisted that their fruit should pass into the country tax-free as the letter of the law decreed, the government was forced to refund roughly $2 million in duties—or about $40 million by today’s standards. Commas are one of the 9 spelling and grammar mistakes spell check won’t catch.
Cost of blunder: $38 million +
The typo you made this morning
If you’re starting to feel smug right now, consider that even your everyday typos come at a price. Google could be earning close to half a billion dollars per year through typos, thanks to well-placed advertisements on commonly misspelled URLs like “goggle.com” or “twittter.com.” It’s a practice called “typosquatting,” and is mostly just a harmless way to capitalize on web users’ typos by directing them to ads. However, just-slightly-misspelled versions of popular sites can also be prime stages for launching cyberattacks. Remember to always double-check what you type. If you don’t, it could cost you. Avoid costly mistakes like these typos and learn the truth about the 20 most confusing rules in the grammar world.
Cost of blunder: $487 million per year