Business Writing

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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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October 20, 2011


David Perry

Yes--I've published several print documents (not to mention e-mails) with the word "pubic," when I meant "public."


What a fun topic!

Our company once published a report that was sent to several hundred people. The report's finding was on decreased mortality rates as a result of some drug. Only, instead of "Decreased Mortality Rates" on the cover page, we had "Decreased Morality Rates."

Here’s another one: My dad is a CPA. For a couple of years, the sign on the front of his office indicated that he was a "Certified Pubic Accountant." No one at the office realized the mistake until a member of the community called about it.

Finally, one of my most embarrassing typos involves spelling "now" as "not," and vice-versa. In a press release for a company, I might mean to write, "Company X is now offering convenient free checking," but the spellcheckers don't catch it when I actually write, "Company X is *not* offering convenient free checking."

I am in North Carolina--any chance you were in the Asheville area? If so, you weren't too far from me!


David: I'm glad to know that others make the public/pubic mistake as well!

Randy Averill

I cannot resist sharing a mistake made by a friend of mine. He did not carefully review the addressee list before sending.
He was trying to send a message to his wife. The message was quite personal, having to do with their desire to become parents (is that sanitized enough?). Instead of selecting "Allison" from his contact list, he selected "All (company) users" from the corporate address list. Before he realized what he had done, his extremely personal message had been delivered to over 4,000 people.
They subsequently had twins so everything worked out eventually.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, David. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has made the pubic-public mistake. Now I have Microsoft automatically correct my "pubics" to "publics."

Thanks for sharing!


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Nina. I love these! The "decreased morality rates" are my favorite!

Like you, I have made the now/not mistake, along with your father's sign mistake.

I was teaching in Raleigh, and now I am in Winston-Salem with friends. You can't be far!

Thanks for the laughs.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Randy, I can imagine your red-faced friend and the subsequent snickering, real or imagined. That's a wonderful, embarrassing story.

Thanks for sharing.


George Raymond

A classic e-mail gaffe is to receive a mail from Peter, mistakenly click "reply" instead of "forward", write a comment to Paul about Peter's mail, and click "send". If, to make matters worse, Peter sent his message via a group, your comment goes to 800 people.


Well, this isnt' a written gaffe, but a spoken one. I was working in Russia, and Russian is a second language to me--and my Russian was not very good at the time. Anyway, I was talking to my staff about sending some customer service emails. Well, in Russian, the word "to write" is the same as the word "to urinate"--only the stress differentiates the two. I spent the entire meeting telling my staff whom they should piss on and when. "Make certain you piss on your customer after you make a sale in order to thank him." "Don't forget to piss on your manager to let him know what's going on."

After a couple of minutes, many were rolling in their chairs. Finally, someone raised his hand and said, "Ummm, I think you mean write." Yes, yes I did. :(

Christian Bryant

Hilarious -- no, not yet (knocks on wood).

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, George. Thanks for mentioning that gaffe. It is so easy to click Reply rather than Forward.

A criticism of Peter's work, intended for Paul's eyes but sent to Peter by mistake, could kill a business relationship.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Melissa, I agree with Christian. Your story IS hilarious. Thanks for telling it here.



Once a colleague asked me on the internal chat what was the cost of one of our services so I replied 'just a sex' instead of 'just a sec'. Luckily he had a good sense of humour so we had a good laugh. Since then, just to make sure there is no mistake, I type the entire word 'second'. Especially when chatting to corporate managers... :)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Gabi, thank you for the huge laugh. It's a terrific example.


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