History’s Four Most Disastrous Typos
As some of our less attractive readers love to point out, we here at Cracked are no stranger to the occasional typo. Fortunately, we are a comedy website, so the worst that can happen is that we end up saying Elon Musk looks like a Muppet duck (which is also true). In other fields, though, it can lead to decades-long misconceptions, millions of dollars in losses and even full-blown scandals.
The Bible That Encouraged Adultery
Believe it or not, typos go back way before we started making words by jabbing our fat fingers at the letters. In 1631, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas found out the hard way that a printing press is no substitute for a proofreader. They were at the top of the publishing world as the official printer for King James I and exclusive publisher of his Bible, which was basically a license to print money in those days. (Or whatever they used as money. Sheep?)
It all came crashing down with one of those first printings, in which the word “not” was left out of the worst possible place in the text: the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” After the mistake was discovered, the ensuing outrage forced Barker and Lucas to recall the thousands of copies they’d printed, which the king himself ordered to be destroyed (though a dozen-ish copies have survived to this day). He also destroyed their careers by revoking their printing license in a society that recognized words as dangerous things you should have to be authorized to use. The printing was henceforth referred to as the “Wicked Bible,” because it took a couple more centuries before people got really good at cursing.
Interestingly, some scholars believe it was no mistake at all but an act of sabotage by a jilted business partner. They point to a legendary second error in a sentence that subsequently reads, "Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory and his great ass” instead of “greatness,” but there are several reasons to be suspicious of such claims (and only one reason to believe them — i.e., because it’s hilarious). For one thing, nobody has found this supposed error in a surviving copy, outside of coincidentally placed ink blots; “ass” only meant donkey back then (see above re: the cursing); and it would have instead been nicknamed the Pacino Bible.
A Cookbook Suggested Racist Cannibalism
A few centuries later, a different and decidedly less consequential bible nevertheless found itself in the headlines over a printing error. An Australian cookbook called The Pasta Bible had only sold 48 copies when a noodle lover noticed that a recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto called for “salt and freshly ground black people.” The other 47 presumably skipped promptly past a recipe for spelt and sardines.
As the mistake hit the global media, Penguin Australia sent the 7,000 copies sitting in its warehouse to the great Goodwill in the sky at a cost of $20,000, which might be why head of publishing Bob Sessions made the financially (if not morally) prudent decision not to recall copies that were already on bookstore shelves. He claimed it would be “extremely hard” to ask bookstores to send back their stock (?) and further claimed he didn’t know “why anyone would be offended” by the suggestion to crush and ingest racial minorities. This allowed no one you would ever want to hang out with to hunt down the forbidden volume, causing sales to nearly quadruple — although, again, only from 48 to 180. Man, that pasta must really suck.
A Misplaced Decimal Point Turned Us Into Spinach Eaters
If we asked you to list the nutritional benefits of spinach, you’d probably be like, “It has… a lot of iron? And probably vitamins?” That’s mostly because of two people: a German chemist named Erich von Wolf and Popeye the Sailor Man.
In 1870, Wolf was researching food science when he wrote down the iron content of spinach and made the fateful mistake of placing the decimal point in the wrong spot. Instead of 3.5 milligrams per 100 grams of cooked spinach, he wrote that it had 35, which is freaking amazing. By comparison, the same amount of beef has about 2.5 milligrams. That’s why it became Popeye’s aesthetic, although iron isn’t really the biggest nutritional priority when it comes to strength. They probably just wanted to use that “strong to the finach” line.
The mistake wasn’t identified until 1937, and by then, Popeye had made spinach so popular with children that sales had spiked 33 percent. At that point, no one wanted to be the guy who inadvertently discouraged children from eating their vegetables.
A Missing Hyphen Cost NASA $80 Million
The United States was in the thick of the space race when it launched the Mariner I on July 22, 1962. The rocket’s mission was a flyby survey of Venus, which would have made it the first spacecraft to fly by another planet and, more importantly, really pissed off those Soviets. The key phrase here is “would have.” About five minutes after takeoff, the Mariner I exploded, leaving everyone stunned, confused and out $80 million ($630 million in today’s money).
Over the course of the ensuing investigation into just what the hell, man, it turned out the culprit was a single omitted hyphen in the spacecraft’s code. Anyone who’s ever tried to code even an Angelfire webpage knows that one character can break everything, and in the case of the Mariner I, the lack of that hyphen meant the spacecraft was receiving incorrect data, specifically the kind that told it to crash. It’s kind of like what a bender does to your buddy who you always have to drag-hold by the arms and legs, except for 7 percent of NASA’s federal budget that year. Weird that they didn’t mention this in Hidden Figures.