We type on our laptops and send messages to friends every day. But are we serious about grammar and punctuation? Well, for those of us in the corporate world, sometimes there is no forgiveness for typos. Not when one mistake can cost millions of dollars!
Milking the “Oxford Comma”
The American dairy company Oakhurst must now pay their truck drivers a combined total of around $10 million for overtime work – this was the court’s verdict for a wage dispute, which flared up because of a single comma. The Court of Appeals sided with the drivers. Their decision was based on the fact that the absence of commas in the state law of Maine, makes this law ambiguous. The online edition of Quartz called this decision “incredible tediousness,” and a journalist from the Guardian wrote that “it will please fanatical supporters of spelling and the Oxford comma.” (“Oxford” refers to a comma before “and” or “or” that appends at the end of the homogeneous sentence members.)
As the Maine law states, overtime is not paid for in the case of: “Conservation, processing, harvesting, freezing, drying, marketing, storage, packaging for the delivery or distribution of (1) agricultural products, (2) meat and fish; (3) products that quickly deteriorate.” The drivers said that the absence of a comma after the word “delivery” means that this law only applies to activities such as “packaging” and not delivery or distribution. Since drivers are distributing goods, but do not pack them, they have a reasonable right to an additional fee – for a preceding couple of years.
At first, the district court ruled in favor of the dairy company. However, Judge David Barron of the Court of Appeals overturned this ruling, stating, “We came to the conclusion that the list of exceptions in this law is really ambiguous. Since, according to the laws of the State of Maine, the ambiguity in the laws on pay and duration of work should be interpreted liberally, striving for a fair reparation of labor, we accept a narrow understanding of the list of exceptions that drivers adhere to.”
A Comma for $70 Million
The Oakhurst Dairy company was not the first company to suffer because of problems with punctuation, spelling or typos. When the American company Lockheed Martin – the aircraft construction giant in the field of defense – signed a contract with an unnamed air fleet for the production of military transport aircraft “Hercules”, everyone understood that this would take more than one year.
Therefore, per a contract signed in 1999, it was noted that the price of airplanes would eventually grow to compensate for inflation. Unfortunately, the price update formula contained a typo: a comma was shifted by one character. One of the leaders of Lockheed Martin remarked, “This comma cost our company $70 million.”
Penny Worth Stock Shares
In December 2005 there was an incredible confusion over the sale of shares of the young Japanese company J-Com due to a clerical error made by a stockbroker. The broker of the company Mizuho Securities put 610,000 shares of J-Com up for sale at a price of 1 yen each. In fact, he meant to sell 1 share for 610,000 yen. The error reached the level of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and could no longer be corrected. It cost Mizuho Securities approximately 40 billion yen ($333 million at the time).
The question of millions “singular or plural?”
Employees of the official British registry Companies House “killed” a large engineering firm from Wales when they entered a small typo into the registry. They published information that the company, Taylor & Sons, ceased operations in 2009. In reality, it was Taylor & Son. Taylor & Sons (plural) was a successful company founded in 1875 did not survive such slander. More than 250 employees lost their jobs. The former co-owner Philip Davison-Cebri filed a lawsuit, claiming £8.8 million in compensation for this error. Companies House entered into a settlement agreement with Davison-Cebri, the terms of which were not disclosed.
Very Сheap Airline Tickets
Is it possible to fly from Toronto to Cyprus for $39 in business class? In 2006, it was possible: this was the price indicated on the Alitalia Airlines website, instead of the usual $3900. Before the error was corrected, about 2,000 lucky passengers managed to purchase cheap tickets. The airline wanted to cancel them, but it aroused such outrage that in the end, Alitalia decided to save their reputation and show generosity. Alitalia lost about 7.7 million dollars.
NASA Lost Dash
In 1962, the absence of a hyphen in NASA’s onboard computer code cost NASA $80 million. The compromised code affected the launch of the spacecraft “Mariner 1” that was supposed to perform a flyby of Venus. Due to a small error, the craft lost control and was destroyed 293 seconds after launch. The English writer and scholar Arthur Clarke wrote a few years later that Mariner 1 was “destroyed by the most expensive hyphen in history.”
Don’t let misspelling or typos ruin your business or your career! Adopt a digitized workflow solution and prevent mistakes that could cost a fortune!