The Cost of NOT Proofreading

I read an article recently about a typo that cost the New York City transit system $250,000 to replace maps that had a typo in the minimum cost of the pay-per-ride card. Paying attention and proofreading are valuable skills in the marketplace. I wondered what other errors might have cost businesses and government agencies money and embarrassment that could have easily been prevented. Here are just a few examples that I found in my research:

  • Proofreading errors have been made throughout history. The 1632 edition of the King James Bible left a word out that completely changed the meaning of the seventh commandment when that edition read “Thou shalt commit adultery.” The printer was fined for the mistake and all copies of the Bible with the error had to be destroyed.
  • Tattoo artists are sometimes sued for negligence in misspellings that are permanently inscribed in flesh. This happens much more frequently than one would think.
  • The University of Wisconsin gave its 1988 graduates diplomas that said “University of Wisconson.”
  • Air Canada used luggage stickers reading “This Baggage Has Been X-Rated at Point of Origin.”
  • Australian Publishing Company Penguin Group had to reprint a cookbook at a cost of $18,500 because a recipe for pasta called for “salt and freshly ground black people.”
  • A trader on the Toyko stock exchange in 2005 was too quick to place his order and traded 610,000 shares at 1 yen each instead of 1 share at 610,000 yen. That mistake cost his firm $18.7 million.
  • In 2010, a Chilean man authorized the production of 1.5 million 50-peso coins that misspelled the country’s name as “C-H-I-I-E.” The managing director of the Chilean mint was fired once the mistake was discovered. All 1.5 million of those coins remain in circulation to this day.
  • In June 2010, the gift shop at Australia’s Parliament House unpacked a delivery of mugs that had been ordered to celebrate Barack Obama’s visit to Australia. The mugs, however, welcomed “Barrack Obama” in large letters. They lost approximately $2,000 in expected revenue.
  • A new water tower in the city of Stoughton, Wisconsin, was painted with the word “Stoughon.” The contractor fixed his error free of charge.
  • A clerical error in 2006 may have cost an Italian airline $7.72 million USD. They advertised a flight from Toronto to Cyprus for $39 instead of $3,900. By the time they discovered the error, 2,000 tickets had been sold and the airline had to honor the price.
Everyone is busy, but slowing down and taking the time to make sure what you are doing is correct is obviously well worth it. 

Fewer People are Less Concerned About The Difference Between "Less" and "Fewer"

There seems to be confusion about when to use the word less and when to use the word fewer. Fewer should be used when you are talking about things that can be counted. Grammar Girl calls them “count nouns.”

  • He took three pencils and left fewer than four on her desk. 

Less is used when you are talking about things that cannot necessarily be individually counted. Grammar Girl calls those “mass nouns.”

  • If he used less sarcasm, he might have more friends.

Of course, we are talking about the English language, so there are exceptions. The word less is typically used for measurements of time, money, and distance.

  • He had less than four hours of work left before his vacation.
An interesting fact is that the signs in the grocery store for “10 items or less” is actually grammatically incorrect because you can count the items you put on the grocery belt (count nouns). To be grammatically correct, it should be “10 items or fewer.” That is one way to remember the difference (if remembering horrible mistakes helps you remember how it really should be). There is a belief, however, that in less formal writing, “10 items or less” sounds less stuffy, so is appropriate to use. Working for lawyers, however, has trained me that no writing is less formal, so I’m sticking with the “rule” and believing that all grocery stores are wrong! 

Commas–More is Not Better

Commas are a mark of punctuation that seems to confuse a lot of people. Here are some common comma issues:
  • Commas may be needed to set off a nonessential description. For instance, when I refer to “my grandson Jasper,” there is no comma between “grandson” and “Jasper” because if I just said “my grandson,” you wouldn’t know which of my three grandsons I was talking about. If I only had one grandson, I could set it off with commas because I could take that name out of the sentence and it wouldn’t change the meaning. If I was saying something about “President of the United States, Barack Obama,” the comma is OK because if you deleted his proper name, you would still know who I was talking about. If it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence to take it out and the sentence still makes sense, use commas. If you need that language for the sentence to make sense, take the comma(s) out.
  • With dates, the proper rule is to set off the year in complete dates with commas. “He started on February 23, 2011, in his new position.”
  • Just because serial commas are correct does not mean that every time the word “and” appears, it should have a comma in front of it.  
  • A comma’s intent is not to be used each time you would take a breath or pause in reading the writing. While that may be a good guide, it is not a good rule.
  • Some words are always preceded and followed by commas: 
    • i.e. (that is)
    • e.g. (for example)
    • etc.
    • et al. (when it follows two or more names)
Commas have their place, just not necessarily as many places as people seem to want to put them. 


Who is That to Which You Refer?

Who and that are used when referring to people. Who is for a person or the individuality of a group and that is used when you’re talking about a class or type.

Which and that refer to places, objects, and animals. Which introduces nonessential clauses which could be removed from the sentence and not change its basic meaning, and that introduces essential clauses.

                Keith’s car, which is a red sports car, was stolen last week.

                Keith’s car that was stolen is a red sports car.

For my animal loving friends, you will be happy to note who is now often used when a pet is identified by gender or by name.

It is also now appropriate to use either which or that to introduce an essential clause. Which is preferred when (1) there are two or more parallel essential clauses in the same sentence, (2) thathas already been used in the sentence, or (3) the essential clause is introduced by this . . . which, that . . . which, these . . . which, or those . . . which.

Mary is working in a law office which is what her education has prepared her for and which was her dream job all through high school.

That is a restaurant which you must try.

Quickies – Capitals, Colons, and More

Time for a few quickies.

  • Is Internet Capitalized? I’ve seen it both ways, but Associated Press and the Chicago Manual of Style say that the Internet, as “one big specific network that people visit,” should be capitalized. The Gregg Reference Manual says the capitalized Internet is the “global system of linked computer networks,” while the lowercased internet refers to local area networks linked to each other but not to the Internet. So they all agree that when you are talking about the Internet that is more than linked local area networks, capitalize it.
  • What About the Web and Website? The Web is short for the World Wide Web, again a specific thing, so Web would be capitalized–at least for Associated Press. The Chicago Manual of Style disagrees and recently said that the word web standing alone may be lowercased. However, website is a more generic term that can refer to any number of different sites, so it is not capitalized. Just to keep things really confusing, the Gregg Reference Manual says that Web site is commonly two words with Web capitalized and until the World Wide Web loses its capitalization through popular usage, Web site should be capitalized. Since I’m primarily a Gregg user, I guess I will use Web site. Compound words that include web (such as webcam and webinar) are not capitalized.
  • How Many Spaces After a Colon? Again, back in the old days, there were always two spaces after a colon. Now that we are using more proportional type and using only one space after a period, one space is more appropriate. 
  • When is Next Wednesday? Since people understand different words different ways, it is always confusing to use the term next Wednesday. Does that mean the next Wednesday after today or the Wednesday in the next week? As it is so confusing, best practice is not to use next in this context, but to be more specific about what day you are actually talking about. Instead of next Wednesday, it is more clear to say Wednesday, February 13, or Wednesday a week from tomorrow.
  • Hint for Possessives. As you may know, misuse of apostrophes to make plural words possessive is my biggest pet peeve. I will admit that sometimes I have issues figuring it out–particularly when the base word is a bit unusual. In those cases, I substitute the problem word for a more generic word. For example, if I’m trying to decide if the name Andrews is plural, I might substitute Smith. So in the sentence I knew the Andrews car was in the neighborhood by the rumble of the stereo, I substitute Andrews with Smith, and I know that the Smith car would not be possessive, so my sentence is fine the way it is. If my example was I knew Mr. Andrews’ car was in the neighborhood . . . and I replaced it with I knew Mr. Smith’s car was in the neighborhood . . . I know that it should be possessive. Make your substitute word something simple to make possessive and it will help you make your word correct.
If you have a quickie question or a tip that helps you remember a grammar rule, send it to me ( and we’ll answer it for you and others who probably have the same questions or share your tip so that we can all learn something.