Chapter III. – Typographical Errors, pp.20-23.

[Book of Blunders Contents]

TYPOGRAPHICAL errors, caused by the carelessness of either the compositor or the proof-reader, are of constant occurrence, and many of them are very amusing. 

In columns of news an absurd effect is often produced unintentionally by the running together of items that ought to have begun on different lines. In one of the leading papers in Paris the following paragraphs, printed without a break, must have read ominously:- 

   “Dr X. has been appointed head physician to the Hôspital de la Charité. Orders have been issued by the authorities for the immediate extension of the Cemetery de Parnasse.” 

By far the most common form of typographical blundering is the insertion of one letter in place of another. Not long since a newspaper, reporting the danger that an express train had run in consequence of a cow getting upon the line, said – 

   “As the safest way, the engineer put on full steam, dashed up against the cow, and literally cut it into calves!” 

Some farmers would no doubt be glad to know when that engineer is to be on the road again. 

A Scotch newspaper, reporting the speeches at a Scott centenary meeting, made one of the orators exclaim with more truth than accuracy:- 

“O Caledonia, stern and wild, 

Wet nurse for a poetic child.” 

The readers of an American paper were interested one morning by some reference to 

   “buttered thunder.” 

When one of them wrote to ask where this kind of thunder was to be had, and whether it had any affinity with 

   “greased lightning,” 

it turned out that the reading should have been 

   “muttered thunder.” 

The same paper, by a singular coincidence, contained another equally ridiculous erratum. Said the writer – 

   “There is great dissatisfaction among the loyal masses with the President’s policy.” 

Now, who would have thought that the execrably bad grammar of the above sentence could have been made worse by the omission of a little consonant just after the word loyal? thus placing the luckless author among the “asses,” when he had written himself down something else. 

The readers of the Dundee Advertiser were startled one day to find an insurance company in its advertisement congratulating its shareholders on the 

   “low rate of morality during the past year.” 

A friend in Glasgow gave me the following as specimens of many curious typographical errors which had come under his notice after escaping the printers:- 

One sentence which should have said that 

   “angels take charge of the souls of believers after death,” 


   “take charge of the souls of labourers.” 

A divine who said that the sages of Athens 

   “turned from Paul as a babbler,” 

was made to say that they had 

   “turned from Paul as a cobbler.” 

Dr Robertson, of Irvine, told me that his lecture on German Student-Life was originally entitled 

   “Burschen Life in Germany,” 

but a bill-printer on one occasion had it up on the walls as  

   “Buckskin Life in Germany;” 

and the doctor thought it better afterwards to keep to words that printers could understand. 

Another instance, showing the importance of a single letter, is that of an advertisement that appeared in a New York paper in May, 1869, headed 

   “Infernal remedy.” 

It was very possibly quite true, but of course the compounder of the quack mixture meant to have said 

   “Internal remedy.” 

The American and Continental Monthly, in a curious paper on this subject, gives the following cases:- 

   “A publisher offered a hundred dollars for the best tail for his paper; a grocer advertised an invoice of boxes of pigs from Smyrna; a New York landlord announced a louse to let and possession given immediately.” 

A female compatriot of the irrepressible Train not long since addressed this mournful communication to a Buffalo paper:- 

   “By some fantastic trick of your type-setter, my speech in St James’ Hall, on Saturday evening, is suddenly terminated, and so linked to that of Mr Train, that I am made to run off in an entirely new vein of eloquence. Among many other exploits, I am made to boast that I neither smoke, nor chew, nor drink, nor lie, nor steal, nor swear, as if such accomplishments were usual among American women; and wherever I refer to my honoured countrymen as white males, I am reported as having addressed them as ‘white mules.’ All these are very good jokes if credited to the printer’s devil, but not to those who represent an unpopular idea and carefully weigh their words.” 

Such mistakes, however, are not always the fault of the compositor. They frequently arise from illegible writing on the part of those who supply “copy,” or from reporters failing to catch the exact words used by a speaker. John Bright was generally heard with perfect distinctness to the farthest corner of the House; but on one occasion, when he spoke of 

   “attenders of clubs,” 

these aristocratic gentlemen appeared in the report as 

    “venders of gloves!” 

Another orator, speaking of the Italian struggle, said – 

   “What do the Italians want? They simply want to be a nation.” 

   “What do the Italians want?” 

said the newspaper report. 

   “They simply want to be in Asia!” 

Indistinctness of utterance is a source of confusion to many besides reporters. A clerical friend in Lancashire told me that he had got a wholesome warning in regard to pulpit articulation, by discovering, in one house where he was visiting the day after preaching from Luke xix. 21, that the servant had gone home with the impression that his text had been 

   “I feared thee, because thou art an oyster-man!” 

A Hampshire incumbent recently reported in the Pall Mall Gazette some of the blunders he had heard made in the marriage service by that class of persons who have to pick the words up as best they can from hearing them repeated by others. He said that in his own parish it was quite the fashion for the man, when giving the ring, to say to the woman – 

   “With my body I thee wash up, and with all my hurdle goods I, thee and thou.” 

He said the women were generally better up in this part of the service than the men. One day, however, a bride startled him by promising, in what she supposed to be the language of the prayer-book, to take her husband, 

   “to ‘ave and to ‘old from this day fortni’t for betterer horse for richerer power, in siggerness health, to love cherries and to bay.” 

What meaning this extraordinary vow conveyed to her own mind the incumbent said it baffled him to conjecture.

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