A Small Typo That Cost a Company $5 Million

Consider the lowly “comma”, among the
puniest of punctuation. Just a little curvy mark down there. Not much to look at. So, what’s the difference between these
two phrases: “Let’s eat (comma) Granny!” and “Let’s eat Granny!”? Yeah, it’s basically the difference between
life and death. So if you think grammar is something you only
need in school, you’re about to be “flabbergasted” (yeah, you can google that!). So what’s the big deal with commas? Well, in 2017, Oakhurst Dairy, a company from
the state of Maine, literally lost millions of bucks because of a misplaced comma. The situation was rather trivial: truck drivers
working for the company claimed they were owed overtime payment, while the company itself
disagreed. Both sides appealed to the state labor laws
which said anyone who worked more than 40 hours a week was entitled to 1.5 times their
usual pay rate. That is, with some exceptions, which were
exactly why the argument began in the first place. You see, according to the law, the exemptions
were the following (and it’s a direct quote): “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing,
drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
1. Agricultural produce;
2. Meat and fish produce; and
3. Perishable foods”
Dairy products are absolutely considered perishable foods. Okay, that means truck drivers are exempt
from the overtime pay, doesn’t it, since they distribute such foods? Well, it’s not that simple. Take a closer look at the first sentence. It says “…storing, packing for shipment
or distribution.” Notice the comma before “or”? Right, you don’t, because it’s not there. And that means it’s all a single clause! Now this requires a little bit of explanation. The “Oxford comma” is normally put before
“and” or “or” in sentences where there are three or more items listed one after another. And trust me, it can make a huge difference! Let’s take a simple (albeit oh-so-awkward)
example: During my travels, I met Elon Musk, a witch,
and a cyborg. And now compare it with this: During my travels,
I met Elon Musk, a witch and a cyborg. Uh huh. In the first case, the succession is easily
tracked: first I met Elon Musk, then a witch, and after that a cyborg. Quite a motley crew, to be sure, but not too
weird to be true. In the second case, though, the lack of an
Oxford comma before “and” implies that Elon Musk is both a witch and a cyborg. Well, given his genius I wouldn’t be too
surprised if he wasn’t human, but this is a little bit too much, don’t you agree? That said, let’s get back to the case in
question. Like I said earlier, the “packing for shipment
or distribution” part of the sentence also lacks an Oxford comma, which makes it all
a single activity. And truck drivers hang on to this notion. What they said was, “We distribute the goods
but we don’t pack them.” And if they don’t, that makes them not exempt
from the overtime pay. The company disagreed with this, and the case
was taken to court. And what do you think was the result? That’s right: the drivers won! The judge decided that, if the comma wasn’t
in place, it indeed meant that packing goods and distributing them was considered a whole,
and since the drivers weren’t involved in packing, the overtime payments were due. Thus, according to the court’s decision,
each of the five truck drivers that filed the complaint received $50,000, and the rest
of them (that’s about 127 people) were owed overtime pay for four years. All in all, that made for over 5 million bucks
paid from Oakhurst Dairy’s pocket. Later, Maine edited the law to avoid such
ambiguity, but it was already too late for the company. Punctuation matters, folks! And this isn’t the only case when a seemingly
tiny mistake costs millions of dollars! Here are just a few of many examples that
grammar rules the world. 1. Fruit and plants, 1872
One of the first times when punctuation mattered way too much was when the US government put
a comma instead of a hyphen in the US Tariff Act. By writing “fruit, plants” instead of
“fruit-plants,” the government basically waived fees for all plants instead of only
fruit-bearing ones. To say that farmers were elated is the understatement
of the century. Just think about it: all of a sudden, they
didn’t have to pay taxes for anything they grew on their land and sold! It took almost two years to amend the act,
and during that time, the losses were about $2 million, which today amounts to more than
$50 million. 2. Son and sons, 2015
Not convinced yet? Well, here’s a case where not a comma, but
a single letter caused a lot of trouble. In 2015, a British family business called
Taylor and Sons was listed by the government as facing liquidation. Sad, of course, but a standard procedure nonetheless. Well, it would’ve been if not for a mistake
in the listings: what the government actually meant was Taylor and Son, a different company
altogether. When they realized the mistake, though, it
was already too late: a century-old company with no financial troubles went bankrupt overnight. That wasn’t the end of it, however, because
later, Taylor and Sons took the British Government to court and won the case, earning 9 million
pounds as compensation. And justice was served. 3. The most expensive typo in history, 1962
This grand title goes to a small error in the guidance system of Mariner 1, a probe
made by NASA to collect data from Venus. The typo was so tiny that it’s no real surprise
no one noticed it at first. The thing is, the algorithm lacked a hyphen. But no matter how small, every symbol counts
when precise technology is at stake. This case was no exception: in 1962, the missing
hyphen sent the rocket bearing the probe off course and on to a dramatic crash in the Atlantic
Ocean. By today’s terms, the cost of this mistake
in algorithm was about $150 million, but the reputational damage was indefinitely larger. NASA lost a huge amount of trust, and the
world only saw pictures of Venus much later. Ah, that public opinion. So volatile. 4. Exotic travels gone rogue, 1988
Yellow Pages was really useful back in the pre-Internet era, but it seems it was equally
nasty in some aspects. In 1988, a travel agency from California decided
to list its exotic travel packages in the directory as an advertisement. What do you think could’ve been the worst-case
scenario involving a typo? If you guessed that it was in the word “exotic,”
you would be right. Yellow Pages printed it as “erotic travels.” Definitely not the kind I’d call for openly! And the agency’s clientele thought the same:
it lost 80% of its clients when Yellow Pages refused to correct the mistake. It was, perhaps, the most expensive prank
in the directory’s history, though: the travel agency went on to sue it for gross
misconduct and won $10 million. I hope it managed to bring back the exotic
travel package after that. Although these days…well nevermind. 5. The missing “p,” 2007 (Boy does this remind
me of a joke in middle school. Anyway, let’s get back to the typos…) When you misspell someone’s name, it can
be awkward, but when you misspell a name that can cost you half a million, it’s downright
frustrating. An unfortunate seller on eBay learned this
lesson the hard way. He put a bottle of 1852 Allsopp’s Arctic
Ale on sale — a valuable antique. However, he made a typo and listed it as Allsop’s
Arctic Ale (with only one “p”), leaving it largely unnoticed by connoisseurs. As a result, one bidder bought it from him
for $304 and immediately posted it back on eBay — this time with no mistakes. After over 150 bids, the bottle was sold for
just over a half million dollars. Jackpot! Or should I say “beer pot”? Have you ever made a grammar mistake that
made you pay for it? Share your embarrassing stories down in the
comments — let’s learn from them together! I, for example, once made the most awkward
misspelling in the word “public,” failing to type a very important letter in the middle. Still blushing when I remember that. Anyway, don’t forget to give this video
a like, share it with your grammatically inaccurate friends, and click “Subscribe” to always
stay on the Bright Side of life!


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