These Literary Typos Will Remind You To Double-Check Everything
by Charlotte Ahlin

To err is human. Even the best of us have, in our darkest moments, substituted a "there" for a "their," or an "it's" for an "its." Once in a while, we might even commit that most grievous of errors and leave out an Oxford comma. Typos happen, whether you're composing a biting tweet or a full length novel, and sometimes typos even manage to make it past several rounds of editing and into a published piece of writing. Here are a few of the most embarrassing, significant, and famous typos in literature.

Now, if you've ever published anything on the internet, you probably know that there are people out there who consider typos to be on par with minor war crimes. People become morally outraged over "effect" vs. "affect," or a split infinitive (even though splitting infinitives is grammatically correct, fight me). But usually, typos are fairly harmless errors. Typos are the pimples of the literary world: unsightly, but not life-ruining (unless it's prom night).

Every once in a while, though, there are typos that seem a little more obvious than the wrong "your." Some of these spelling errors might even drastically change the meaning of the book in question. Here are a few instances of famous literary typos:


'The Queen's Governess' by Karen Harper

Karen Harper's The Queen's Governess is noted for its sharp historical detail... except for one particular sentence: "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." Harper meant to write "wanton," a word which describes a promiscuous woman. Instead she wrote "wonton," a word which describes a delicious dumpling. Nothing sexier than dumplings, right?

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'Finnegan's Wake' by James Joyce

Honestly, so much of Finnegan's Wake is written in gibberish that it's hard to separate typos from experimental writing. But, famously, James Joyce dictated parts of his book to his BFF, author Samuel Beckett. During one of these writing sessions, there was a knock at the door, and Joyce said, "Come in." Beckett wrote that down along with all the rest of Joyce's nonsense, and when Joyce realized the mistake, he decided to mess with everyone and leave it in.

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'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' by J.K. Rowling

Are all those wizards secretly rocking a second wand? In the very first edition of the very first Harry Potter book, the list of school supplies for Hogwarts lists "1 wand" twice. You'd think all those extra wands might enter into the plot at some point...

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'The Wicked Bible'

The so-called "Wicked Bible," published in 1631, had just one small typo. It omitted the "not" from one of the Ten Commandments, so that the commandment read, "Thou shalt commit adultery." Whoops.


'Pasta Bible' by Lee Blaylock

If possible, the typo in the Pasta Bible was even worse than the typo in the actual bible: the Australian cookbook suggested that chefs season their meals with "salt and freshly ground black people." The error was from a automatic spellcheck correcting a misspelling of the word "pepper," but the cookbook still had to be reprinted immediately for advocating cannibalism.


'Cymbeline' by William Shakespeare

Cymbeline may not be Shakespeare's most famous play, but the first name Imogen has become increasingly popular in the last few years. In the play, Imogen is a pretty awesome, cross dressing lady, based on a character from British history. The only problem is that her name is actually "Innogen." But two "n"s next to each other look an awful lot like an "m," so the name wound up being printed as Imogen for all time.

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'An American Tragedy' by Theodore Dreiser

The real American tragedy might be a lack of adequate spellcheck, because this book is infamously riddled with typos. The worst typo in the first edition was probably in this sentence: "...harmoniously abandoning themselves to the rhythm of the music—like two small chips being tossed about on a rough but friendly sea." Uh... did you mean ships, Theodore?

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'Webster's New International Dictionary'

There's slipping on your keyboard, and then there's accidentally adding the word "dord" to the dictionary, even though "dord" isn't a real word. The 1934 edition of Webster's New International Dictionary defined "dord" as meaning density (they meant to write "D or d" as a scientific abbreviation for the word density). The mistake was discovered in 1939. So there were five years when everyone just walked around accepting "dord" into their lives.


'House of Leaves' by Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves is already a meta, creepy book about a house that's bigger on the inside than on the outside. But Danielewski took it a step further by adding a bunch of typos that might just be innocent mistakes... or might be intentional hints for the reader to pick up on. His fictional narrators are constantly writing things like, “He might have spent all night drinking had exhaustion not caught up with me,” without ever clarifying whether this is an error or a calculated misstep.

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