How Bad Scheduling and a Misguided Con Scheme Changed the World

Johannes Gutenberg (circa 1400 – February 3, 1468) was responsible for one of the pivotal inventions in all of history: the moveable-type printing press. That invention, more than any other, allowed mankind to begin to collect and disseminate its collective knowledge and progress into the scientific and industrial revolutions. It almost didn't happen. We owe... Continue Reading →

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What Were These Headline Writers Thinking?

A headline is designed to capture the reader's attention and draw him or her into the story. Sometimes that happens in entirely unexpected ways. Take a look at some of the most hilarious headlines to have graced the newspapers. Sometimes the attempt to correct the mistake can be even more entertaining, as was the case... Continue Reading →

Did One Wrong Word Cause the Hiroshima Bombing?

Readers of Commonplace will not be surprised to learn that one little mistranslation from one language to another can be embarrassing. Whether it is one misplaced letter when cheering General Douglas MacArthur, an incompetent interpreter for a US President, or slip of a tongue during an word of encouragement from a member of the royal family, one... Continue Reading →

The Accidental Invasions of Liechtenstein

Switzerland has a long-standing tradition of neutrality and rarely gets involved in military confrontation. It may, therefore, surprise you to learn that Switzerland has invaded its neighboring country Liechtenstein, not once, but three times in a 22-year period -- each time by accident! On December 5, 1985, the Swiss Army fired rockets as part of... Continue Reading →

The Great Tootsie Roll Battle of the Korean War

On Veteran's Day we honor and celebrate those who have served their country in the armed forces. These individuals are known for bravery, selflessness, commitment to duty, and innovation in the face of challenges. Few moments in history illustrate all of these characteristics better than the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, when soldiers used a tasty... Continue Reading →

Great Strategy. Bad Geography.

When it came to big names in the Viking community, Hastein was certainly a rising star. This 9th century chieftain made his name with raids in the Frankish Empire (notably avoiding Scotland, as Vikings had been warned to do) and joint efforts with Sweden’s King Björn Ironside to raid countries in the Mediterranean. It was... Continue Reading →

Horsing Around With Royalty

President Ronald Reagan shared Queen Elizabeth II's love of horses. During a state visit to the United Kingdom, the President accepted the Queen's invitation to go horseback riding together. As the two leaders rode along, the Queen's horse suddenly began expelling gas loudly, in sync with each step. The Queen was mortified and said, "Oh, I am... Continue Reading →

The Awkward Tale of the Countries with Identical Flags

What can be more awkward than two ladies showing up at a social event, wearing identical outfits? How about two countries showing up for the Olympics, waving identical flags? That's what happened at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. The Haitian civil flag dates back to the early 1800's. Unlike the national flag, which includes... Continue Reading →

Funniest Newspaper Correction is …. Drugroll, Please!

In 2012 the editors of Centralia, Illinois' Morning Sentinel learned the value of one little letter. Red-faced, the editors ran the following correction: "Due to a typing error, Saturday’s story on local artist Jon Henninger mistakenly reported that Henninger’s band mate, Eric Lyday, was on drugs. The story should have read that Lyday was on... Continue Reading →

Major Metric Malfunction Means Missed Mars Mission and Millions of Moolah

Hopes were high when the Mars Climate Orbiter launched from Cape Canaveral on December 11, 1998. The robotic space probe was designed to study the climate, atmosphere, and surface changes of Mars and to act as a communications relay for the Mars Polar Lander. For the next ten months, all went according to plan as... Continue Reading →

The Translated Version Hasn’t Come Out Yet

A Spanish delegate to a diplomatic conference turned on his microphone and said, “Estoy constipado, perdónadme.” Ordinarily this would translate as, “Please excuse me; I have a cold.” The French interpreter, instead, translated his words as, “Excuse me; I’m constipated.” Source: John Coleman-Holmes, Mâcher du coton, Entre-temps, 1971, p. 201.

Translator Wanted — Knowledge of the Language Preferred

When a fake sign language interpreter managed to get the job of interpreting during the funeral for Nelson Mandela, President Jimmy Carter must have had flashbacks to a time that his life was complicated by an interpreter who was not up to the task. The occasion was the 1977 visit of President Carter to Poland. Steven... Continue Reading →

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