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Is There Anything Good About a Typo?

A spelling mistake in a letter is like a bug on a white shirt.

So said Faina Raveskaya, the famous early 20th century actress, who was also well known for her pithy observations on life.

And of course, that bug on a white shirt, known as a typo, applies to any copy that is published for an audience, be it printed or digital. Typos are discordant. They stop the flow of the words you’re reading. They interrupt your concentration, they’re annoying, and depending on the size and quantity of the bug, they may stop you reading altogether. There are only two good things about typos: they can potentially make you rich; and they can potentially make you laugh.

Did you know that typos can make books valuable collector’s items? Of course, the more famous the author the more valuable the mistake. If you have any of these books you could be sitting on a gold mine.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  

Mark Twain’s first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn famously had two typos – “decides” was printed as “decided” and “was” printed as “saw”. If you think you might have an 1885 edition lurking in a dusty bookshelf, you’d better check because it could be worth US$18 000 and a whopping US$162 000 if it’s signed.

The Sun Also Rises

And while you’re hunting through the shelves, keep a lookout for a first edition of Ernest Hemmingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises. On page 181, “stopped” is spelt “stoppped” with three p’s. This particular version could earn you US$80 000.

“The Wicked Bible”

Since there are believed to be only 11 surviving copies of what is known as “The Wicked Bible”, which was printed in 1631, it’s unlikely you have a copy. But it’s worth checking as you’ll be able to sell it for over US$100 000. In Exodus 20:14 of the King James Bible, the seventh commandment reads, “Thou shalt commit adultery”, leaving out the very important “not”. The misprinted copies were burnt in a bonfire at the command of King Charles I and the typesetter (and most probably the proofreader) was naturally fired.


James Joyce’s Ulysses has been described as the best novel in the history of literature and also the most difficult to read. In fact, it’s so hard to read that books have been written on how to read it. Virginia Woolf, however, described it as “an illiterate, underbred book”. Harsh criticism indeed but considering that the early editions had 5 000 typos (that’s seven typos on average per page), she may well have had a point. Many of the mistakes are attributed to Joyce adding about 100 000 handwritten words to the book on the printer’s proofs. It didn’t help that his handwriting was often illegible or that the printing company was in Dijon in France where the employees knew no English whatsoever. The errors were to do with punctuation, spelling, omitted words and phrases and even whole sentences. Joyce was aware of it, and he attempted to make corrections for subsequent editions but apparently got bored and started a new book instead.

In 1984, an international team of scholars completed a three-volume corrected edition, which took them seven years to complete – the same amount of time it took Joyce to write it way back in 1922. First editions of Ulysses are worth around US$75 000 and over US$100 000 if signed. They are extremely rare since, thankfully, only 1 000 were printed. 

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And then there are the typos that make us laugh . . .

The Queen’s Governess

Acclaimed for her historical accuracy in her fictional accounts of Tudor history, best-selling author Karen Harper made a tiny error in a sentence that resulted in the first edition of The Queen’s Governess becoming a collector’s item. Upon being woken up in the middle of the night by thugs demanding to the see the princess Anne Boleyn, her lady-in-waiting says: “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.” Of course, she did not mean to describe herself as a tasty dumpling, and surely meant a wanton and sensual woman instead.  

The Parting

A touching and romantic sentence in this novel by Millicent Hemming is ruined by a typo: “I’m certain of one thing, whatever may come between us and wherever he may be on Earth, Arthur will always know that I love ham.” And simply because of a missing “i”, poor Arthur will never know that she will always love him. But at least he will know what to put in her sandwich.

If you’re looking for more typo fun and games, look out for a gem of a book by Drummond Moir, Just My Typo: From “Sinning with the Choir” to “the Untied States”. You’ll find it on Amazon.

WordWise – Online Proofreading Course

And if you’re looking for an outstanding online proofreading course, click here. This self-paced online proofreading course is designed to help you become a skilled proofreader – one who won’t miss a typo!  

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