Mistakes can happen in the most unlikely places

October 20, 2017

I’m a writer. I have a dozen books available on Amazon and I try to write at least a thousand words a day.

Invariably, I make mistakes when I’m typing. Thanks to modern technology, though, spelling mistakes are usually easy to catch. The computer highlights them unless, of course, the misspelling is also a word. Other errors are harder to find — missed words or words in the wrong place sometimes fool the eye and it takes several readings to catch them all.

It’s always been so, of course, even before the days of electronic word processors writers made errors and could not spell.

Take William Shakespeare, for instance. Arguably the greatest writer of the English language ever. Was his name Shakespeare? It may have been Shaksper or Shakspere or even Shakspeare. We have six surviving examples of his signature and it seems he couldn’t even spell his own name because he used all of these.

So, what other famous misspellings are there?

Well, one of the most iconic sights in Washington, D.C. is the Lincoln Memorial. Costing $2 million and taking eight years to complete it was dedicated in 1922. Since then, it has been visited by millions of people yet few have noticed that, when the mason was chiseling Lincoln’s second inaugural address into the stone of the north wall, he made a typo.

The president used the phrase ”... high hope for the future.” If you look closely you will see the word “Future” was actually spelled “Euture.” The error was spotted and, rather than scrap the very expensive stone, the bottom of the “E” was filled in to make it an “F.” Unfortunately, the stone used for the filling is a slightly different color and the mistake can still be seen.

That error could have been embarrassing for the federal government, but other world leaders also make mistakes.

Take the Vatican for instance. You would think that the one name they would be able to spell would be Jesus, yet in 2013 a medallion was made to celebrate Pope Francis’s first year in office. It showed the pope on one side and on the other side it spelled Jesus as Lesus. More than 6,000 of the medallions were made, and the Vatican recalled and destroyed most of them but a few escaped and are worth a fortune today.

That is not the only religious error. Way back in 1631 the King James Bible was reprinted by the king’s printers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas. They produced more than a thousand copies of the book over the next year and all was well until a keen-eyed scholar was reading through Exodus, specifically the ten commandments. The first six were fine, and then they got to number seven and presumably gave a gasp of amazement because a word was missing and it quite clearly said “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

When he was told, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury ranted about all printers and the king, Charles I, was furious. He summoned the printers to court, fined them the equivalent of $60,000 and revoked their license to print anything. He also ordered all copies of the book to be retrieved and burned. Most of them went up in flames but it seems there were collectors even then and a few copies escaped. They earned the nickname “The Wicked Bible” and sell for large sums today.

The Bible isn’t the only holy book with errors of course. In 1999 the state of Kuwait issued a free copy of the Koran in which an entire verse was found to be missing. The government’s Minister for Islamic Affairs, Ahmad al-Kulaib, was blamed, but the country’s leader, Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah was so incensed that he sacked the whole parliament and called for a general election.

Some misspellings were acceptable at the time they were written of course. The U.S. Constitution and the Liberty Bell for example both have Pennsylvania spelled with a single N, as Pensylvania, but it seems that was okay back in the 18th century.

More recently Ed Koch was Mayor of New York City from 1978 – 89. He died in 2013 at the age of 88 – or was he 70? He was born in 1924 but when his tombstone was erected at Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan the numbers were transposed and it had his birth year as 1942. This has now been corrected and those who knew the man reckon he would have been amused by the error.

Even big, high-tech companies are not immune to misspellings. One of the search engines I use when I’m researching these articles is Google. It’s a mine of information but surprisingly rumor has it that the name itself is a misspelling of googol, which means ten to the power of one hundred.

Looking at the above it seems that when I misspell words I’m in illustrious company. I try to correct all my misspellings before they get into my books or articles but, if someone points one out to me I like to think of President Andrew Jackson. When he was criticized for his own bad spelling he apparently said “It’s a poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word.”

Derek Coleman is a parttime writer who is a native of England and who now lives in Hurricane, W.Va. He can be reached at tallderek@hotmail.com.