17 hilarious misprints you need to know

There are four types of misprints that tend to evoke hilarity

By Shashi Tharoor

Published: Thu 2 Jun 2022, 4:11 PM

No one who reads the printed word can escape the experience, and often the pleasure, of coming across misprints. Human beings are often hasty when they type or proof-read, and if I had a dirham for every time, during my UN career, I came across my organisation being referred to as the “Untied Nations”, I could probably buy myself a fancy computer.

There are four types of misprints that tend to evoke hilarity. ‘Untied’ for ‘United’ represents the commonest kind of misprint, resulting from the transposition of adjoining letters. The most famous of those tend to border on the risqué, such as the time the South London Press reported that ‘The strike leaders had called a meeting that was to have been held in a bra near the factory, but it was too small to hold them all’. This kind of transposition of letters can create other problems. An American newspaper carried a notice for a festive Christmas Day event that was meant to feature a ‘special appearance by Santa at 3 pm’. Unfortunately, it ran the announcement of a ‘special appearance by Satan at 3 pm’.

The second kind of misprint involves the omission of a letter, as when the Bristol Gazette informed its readers after a fire, ‘One man was admitted to hospital suffering from buns’. Various Indian newspapers have announced leaders taking a ‘plan’ to Delhi rather than a ‘plane’, and one captioned a museum photograph as being of the ‘goddess Venu’.

The third kind of misprint involves the typing of the wrong letter altogether, as when a local newspaper in England in 1897 solemnly announced that ‘to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Parish Council intend to place a commemorative plague on the village green’. (Of course what was intended was a ‘plaque’). Or the Surrey Advertiser story saying that ‘Arthur Kitchener was seriously burned Saturday afternoon when he came in contact with a high-voltage wife’. (wire!)

The most notorious example of this type of misprint among journalists involved a 19th century British newspaper, in whose intended, innocuous headline ‘Queen Passes Over Bridge’ (prompted by Queen Victoria inaugurating a new bridge), the first vowel in the second word was inadvertently (or maybe maliciously!) replaced by another — an “i”! The consequences were calamitous for the newspaper — every printed copy had to be recalled and pulped, and that paper was not circulated that day. But enough readers had spotted the headline for the misprint to enter the annals of legend.

The fourth kind features an unintentional error that seems startlingly appropriate, such as the repetition of a phrase in the Irish Press story: ‘The Irish Stammerers’ Association will hold a seminar will hold a seminar entitled ‘Aids for Stammerers’ tonight’. Or the South Wales Evening Post headline that announced a ‘Cash plea to aid dyslexic cildren’.

But the prize for the most misprints, undoubtedly, goes to The Guardian in England, whose misprints were so frequent and so notorious that in 1998 it began running a daily corrections and clarifications column, necessary for a newspaper, which its rivals affectionately dubbed ‘the Grauniad’ for the large number and hilarity of its misprints. In August 1998, its finance pages reported the payment of a record £250,000 advance for Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Buy. The Guardian readers were also famously informed that the 2003 spring season at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon would feature ‘The Taming of the Screw’. The Scottish band ‘Frightened Rabbit’ was referred to as ‘Frightened Rabbi’ and a women’s a cappella group as ‘Foul Purpose’ instead of ‘Soul Purpose’. In an interview, the chairman of Wolverhampton Wanderers was quoted as saying, ‘Our team was the worst in the First Division and I’m sure it’ll be the worst in the Premier League’. He had actually just declined the offer of a tea as being the worst tea, not his team!

To cap it all, in 2007, The Guardian once had the humiliation of admitting: ‘We misspelled the word misspelled twice, as mispelled, in the Corrections and Clarifications column on September 26’. No wonder the paper actually published a note on January 26, 1999: ‘The absence of corrections yesterday was due to a technical hitch rather than any sudden onset of accuracy’.


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