Typos are careless spelling or punctuation mistakes. They are usually minor, but not always. Sometimes these small mistakes can cost millions of dollars.
NASA, the US space agency, made a little mistake in 1962 that had a big impact. Their spacecraft, called “Mariner 1”, was launched in 1962 with the goal of flying by the planet Venus. The spacecraft was robotic, so there were no people onboard. Because of this, its navigation was controlled by software. Unfortunately, the person in charge of writing the software forgot one character – a hyphen. This missing hyphen caused the software to malfunction. The spacecraft exploded after takeoff, costing NASA $80 million!
NASA’s $80 million down the drain was actually small change compared to Mizuho’s losses.
Nick-named the “fat finger” trade, a Japanese company called Mizuho Securities lost hundreds of millions of dollars because of a tiny typo. On the day of the fat fingered typo, the price of J-Com stocks was selling for 610,000 yen (approximately $6,000) a share. A Mizuho employee attempted to sell 1 share for 610,000 yen, but because of a careless typo he sold 610,000 shares for 1 yen each!
This cost Mizuho Securities about $340 million in one day. The error also caused Japan’s market to become unstable. While we all make typos from time to time, most of them are quickly forgotten. In the case of the Mizuho employee, he will probably never live it down.
Both the NASA and Mizuho mistakes were classic typos. They were careless mistakes that were unintentional. There are also cases in history where people have intentionally used a typo to change the message’s meaning.
Empress Maria Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Alexander III once cleverly used punctuation to save a man from exile. Her husband had written an order that harshly sent a man into exile in Siberia.
It said, “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia”.
In the original order, the Tsar was saying that canceling the punishment was impossible. After Feodorvna moved the comma, the meaning completely changed.
It now said, “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.”
With one deft stroke of the pen, the man was free. This intelligent edit was all that was needed to change the meaning from exile to mercy.