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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

15 Famous Typos in First Editions

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To err is human, and we’ve all done it, especially in the form of a typographical error. But different types of typos can have hugely varying consequences—there’s a big difference between spelling your coworker’s name wrong in an email and committing an error in a book that will be preserved in print for all history to refer to. Typos can be profitable, too, of course—according to legend, the name Google is derived from a misspelling of “googolplex.” But useful or embarrassing, sometimes typos are forever, perhaps even more in the age of the internet. Here are some of publishing’s most memorable blunders.

1. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY

Theodore Dreiser's 1925 classic has a handful of small typos, of the “to/too” and “if/it” persuasion, but perhaps the cutest is the place where characters are referred to as “harmoniously abandoning themselves to the rhythm of the music—like two small chips being tossed about on a rough but friendly sea.” One can probably assume he meant “ships,” but there’s always a chance that he was talking about a sea of pico de gallo.

2. THE GOOD EARTH

Portrait of Pearl S. Buck via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

 
One can tell the first, second, and third printings of Pearl S. Buck’s 1931 novel apart from later printings by a blooper on page 100, line 17, wherein a wall against which people set up their huts is being described. “It stretched out long and grey and very high, and against the base the small mat sheds clung like flees to a dog's back.” Editions of the book that include the misspelling can go for as much as $9500.

3. CRYPTONOMICON

 
The original hardcover edition of Neal Stephenson’s 1999 sci-fi thriller famously contained a number of simple typos (“a” instead of “at,” “that” instead of “that’s”). There is also a switch-up on page 700—the word “factitious” is used in place of “fictitious.” However, many fans maintain that Stephenson did this deliberately and that the typos comprise a hidden message, per one of the themes of the book—cryptographers attempting to crack World War II-era Axis codes.

4. HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE

Daniel Ogren via Wikimedia Commons// CC BY 2.0

 
The first book in the beloved Harry Potter series would be treasured by muggles even if it didn’t carry a typo, but a selection of copies are valued at a small fortune for this reason. The mistake is found on page 53, in a list of school supplies that young wizards are expected to bring to Hogwarts: “1 wand” is listed at both the beginning and at the end. That said, the typo did reappear in a few later printings even after it was caught in the second round, so it’s only the true first editions that are worth beaucoup bucks.

5. TROPIC OF CANCER

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It’s almost like Henry Miller wasn’t even trying here—or that his publisher wasn’t even trying to hire a proofreader. His 1961 novel about general debauchery in Paris led to over 60 obscenity lawsuits and features a whole mess of typographical errors, such as “He listend to me incomplete bewilderment” (page 271), and “Even after he has slept with one of these mythical cratures he will still refer to her as a virgin, and almost never by name” (page 91). One might even suspect that Miller wasn’t … altogether sober while he was writing it.

6. “THE WICKED BIBLE"

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This 1631 edition of the King James Bible by Robert Baker and Martin Lucas included an accidental new twist on the 7th Commandment, informing readers that “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This managed to incense both King Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury—its publishers were hauled into court and fined £300 (a little over $57,000 in today’s U.S. dollars) for the oversight and they had their printing license revoked. Most of the copies were subsequently burned, and the book picked up the sobriquet “The Wicked Bible” or “The Sinners’ Bible.” Only about 10 copies remain today—one was put up for sale by British auction house Bonhams just last year.

7. THE ROAD

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In the first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s postapocalyptic The Road, page 228 reads, “A moment of panic before he saw him walking along the bench downshore with the pistol hanging in his hand, his head down.” The rest of the paragraph talks about being on the beach, though, so it’s safe to imagine that’s what McCarthy meant. Unless it was a bench down the shore. Presumably a long one that you can walk along?

8. THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN

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As with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain took great creative license when he was writing about Huck Finn, and the book is full of things like “spos’n” in place of “supposing” and “gwyne” in place of “going to” to illustrate the Southern dialect the boys speak. But among the intentionally flawed bits of spelling and grammar, there is a legitimate error hidden in first edition of Huck Finn: “I took the bag to where it used to stand, and ripped a hole in the bottom of it with the was.” (It should be “with the saw.”)

9. A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

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The entire Song of Ice and Fire series—the books that the HBO show A Game of Thrones is based on—is rife with typos and consistency errors, but Book Five arguably has the most. For instance, on page 854, where Queen Cersei descends a staircase and muses: "’I am beautiful,’ she reminded himself." The word “wroth” is consistently misused in this book as well—e.g., page 53: "Even in the north men fear the wroth of Tywin Lannister." (Wroth is an adjective, meaning angry—author George R. R. Martin should have used “wrath,” the noun form.)

10. GRAVITY’S RAINBOW

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The 1973 novel, Thomas Pynchon’s best-known, contained a handful of typos, including: “Over croissants, strawberry jam, real butter, real coffee, she has him running through the flight profile in terms of wall temperature and Nusselt heart-transfer coefficients ...” It should be “heat-transfer,” of course.

11. THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

 
Karen Harper regularly receives major props for accuracy when it comes to historical detail in her popular, mostly Tudor-themed novels, but the same can’t be said for lexical detail. In her 2010 hit The Queen’s Governess, Harper made a small but memorable slip. When heroine Kat Ashley, lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn, is awoken in the night by ruffians who demand to see Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth, she remarks: “In the weak light of dawn, I tugged on the gown and sleeves I'd discarded like a wonton last night to fall into John's arms." Okay, to be fair, folks in Tudor England probably didn’t have a lot of experience with Chinese food, but even so, you’re not supposed to unwrap wontons before you eat them (the word she was looking for, of course, was wanton).

12. PLAGUE SHIP

Photo of Clive Cussler by Staff Sgt. Luke Graziani via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

 
There’s a weird one in Clive Cussler’s joint novel with Jack Du Brul, where a character finds himself in an overturned ATV: “He goosed the throttle and worked the wheel, using the four-wheeler’s power rather than moist his strength to right the six-hundred-pound vehicle.” Sort of makes sense—in an emergency, you gotta reserve all your juices for later.

13. FREEDOM

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It was lauded as “the book of the century” after being released in the U.S. in 2010, but when Freedom, Jonathan Franzen’s follow-up to 2001’s The Corrections, was published in the UK, an early, unproofed version of the manuscript was mistakenly used, resulting in a final print that was absolutely riddled with typesetting errors. The misprints in the British version numbered in the hundreds. HarperCollins ended up recalling thousands of copies of the novel and let fans exchange their tainted books for new, corrected copies, going as far as to set up a “Freedom recall hotline.” Maybe Franzen should have saved the title “The Corrections” for this book instead.

14. THE PASTA BIBLE

LeszekCzerwonka via iStock

 
In 2010, Penguin Group Australia had to ditch about 7000 copies of The Pasta Bible when it was discovered that a recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto told cooks to “add salt and freshly ground black people,” rather than pepper. The gaffe was blamed on a spellcheck error and the company’s head of publishing brushed it off as “a silly mistake,” but it ended up costing the company a not-silly 20,000 Australian dollars (about $14,900 USD in 2016).

15. TWILIGHT

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The first edition of Twilight is festering with typos, which is perhaps unsurprising, seeing as it was written in just three months and was sent to press in a similar hurry. Most of the blemishes are of the “whose/who’s” and “though/through” variety, but there are a few funny ones, including “I ate breakfast cheerily, watching the dust moats stirring in the sunlight that streamed in the back window.” One can imagine that Stephenie Meyer, who went from being a stay-at-home mom to finding herself on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid celebrities in the space of just a few years, probably didn't lose too much sleep over it.

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literature
7 Lost and Rediscovered Literary Works by Famous Authors
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A number of literary works by famous authors that were once thought lost have recently been rediscovered. Some were found in private collections, others within vast archives, and one was even uncovered in an attic. A few of these works have delighted readers and scholars alike, while others may have gone unpublished for a reason—yet all offer fresh insight into the development of the writers who wrote them.

1. “TEMPERATURE” // F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

In July 2015 Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand magazine, was searching through the rare book archive at Princeton University when he uncovered a previously unpublished short story by Princeton alum F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gulli makes something of a habit of searching for lost and unpublished works by famous authors, and in the past has uncovered a story by John Steinbeck, which was also published for the first time in The Strand. Fitzgerald's 8000-word short story, entitled “Temperature” and written in 1939, features a hard-drinking writer with a heart problem. In a sad echo of real life, just a year after he wrote it Fitzgerald himself died of a heart attack.

2. WHAT PET SHALL I GET? // DR. SEUSS

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) seated at a desk covered with his books
Library of Congress, Wikimedia // Public Domain

In 2013, the widow of Ted Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss) rediscovered a pile of manuscripts and sketches that she had set aside shortly after her husband's death in 1991. The papers contained the words and illustrations for What Pet Shall I Get?, which was published by Random House in July 2015. It is thought the book was likely written between 1958 and 1962, since it features the same brother-and-sister characters found in Seuss’s 1960 bestseller One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

3. “SHERLOCK HOLMES: DISCOVERING THE BORDER BURGHS AND, BY DEDUCTION, THE BRIG BAZAAR” // ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

Portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sitting at a table in his garden, Bignell Wood, New Forest, 1927
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A Sherlock Holmes short story supposedly written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was uncovered in the attic of historian Walter Elliot in 2015. The strange little story was written by Conan Doyle to be included in a collection of stories entitled The Book o' the Brig, which aimed to raise funds to rebuild a bridge across Ettrick Water, near Selkirk in Scotland, which had been destroyed during floods in 1902.

No sooner had the story been rediscovered, however, than some were expressing doubts about whether it had been written by Conan Doyle himself, especially since the flowery language doesn't seem in keeping with the renowned author's pared-down style. The full text of the story can be read (and puzzled over) here.

4. "THE FIELD OF HONOR" // EDITH WHARTON

Photo of author Edith Wharton, wearing hat with a feather, coat with fur trim, and a fur muff
Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Alice Kelly, a researcher from Oxford University, was studying Edith Wharton’s papers in the Beinecke Library at Yale University in November 2015 when she discovered a previously unpublished short story. The unfinished nine-page story was stuck to the back of another manuscript, and is entitled "The Field of Honor." It centers on the First World War and is critical of the women who only superficially helped with the war effort, perhaps explaining why it was not published at such a sensitive time.

5. "POETICAL ESSAY ON THE EXISTING STATE OF THINGS" // PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

Crayon drawing of poet Percy Shelley circa 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Percy Bysshe Shelley was in his first year of university at Oxford in 1810/11, he wrote and published a poem critical of the Napoleonic wars under the pseudonym “a gentlemen of the University of Oxford.” The 172-line poem was printed in a 20-page pamphlet entitled “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” and was not attributed to Shelley until 50 years after his death. All copies were thought lost until 2006, when one was found amidst a mysterious private collection and offered for auction. Only scholars had access to the poem until 2015, when it was purchased by the Bodleian Library in Oxford to add to their world-famous collection of Shelley works and papers. The poem became the library’s 12 millionth book to be acquired and is now available online for all to read.

6. EARLY STORIES // TRUMAN CAPOTE

A black-and-white photo of a smiling Truman Capote
Evening Standard/Getty Images

A Swiss publisher poring over Truman Capote’s papers at the New York Public Library several years ago rediscovered a variety of short stories and poems the author had written before the age of 20. While four of the stories had been published in Capote’s school literary magazine, The Green Witch, the majority of the pile was brand-new to the reading public. In October 2015, Penguin books released the stories as The Early Stories of Truman Capote.

7. THE TURNIP PRINCESS

While looking through the archives of the city of Regensberg, Germany, researcher Erika Eichenseer uncovered 30 boxes containing more than 500 German fairy tales, which had lain unnoticed for 150 years. The stories had been collected by historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, who traveled around the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz recording folktales, myths, and legends in order to preserve them. He published the results of his research in three volumes between 1857 and 1859, but his matter-of-fact accounts of the stories were somewhat overshadowed by the more artful stories of his contemporaries the Brothers Grimm, and his book fell into obscurity. The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales contains 72 of the lost tales and was published by Penguin in February 2015.

A previous version of this story ran in 2015.

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History
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

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