Lost in Translation: The Best (or Worst?) Grammar Blunders in History

As we all know, grammar can be tricky. Even the most experienced writers and speakers occasionally slip up and make mistakes. However, some grammar blunders are more memorable than others. In this blog post, we'll explore some of the biggest grammar blunders in history.

  1. “Let Them Eat Cake” Marie Antoinette's famous quote “Let them eat cake” is often cited as a major grammar blunder. In addition to the mistranslation of “brioche” as “cake,” the quote is also grammatically incorrect. In French, the correct phrase would have been “Qu'ils mangent de la brioche,” which uses the subjunctive mood.
  2. “Houston, We've Had a Problem” This iconic quote from the Apollo 13 mission is often misquoted as “Houston, we have a problem.” However, the actual quote used the past tense: “Houston, we've had a problem.” This blunder may seem small, but it highlights the importance of precise language in high-stakes situations.
  3. The Case of the Missing Comma In 1872, a dispute over the interpretation of a contract came down to a missing comma. The contract stated that a group of workers would not receive overtime pay for “packing for shipment or distribution of” certain items. The workers argued that the absence of a comma after “shipment” meant that the exemption applied to both packing and distribution, while the company claimed that the exemption only applied to distribution. The dispute eventually made it all the way to the Maine Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the workers.
  4. The “Dewey Defeats Truman” Headline In the 1948 presidential election, the Chicago Tribune famously declared that “Dewey Defeats Truman” in a front-page headline. Of course, the headline was incorrect – Truman had actually won the election. The mistake was blamed on a rushed production process and a failure to double-check the facts.
  5. The “Literally” Epidemic In recent years, the word “literally” has become a victim of its own success. The word, which is meant to be used to describe something that is actually true, has been misused so often that it is now often used to mean the opposite. For example, someone might say “I'm literally dying of boredom,” when they are in fact not dying at all. While this blunder may be more of a linguistic shift than a grammatical mistake, it highlights the importance of clear and precise language.

In conclusion, grammar blunders have been a part of human communication for as long as we've been speaking and writing. While some of these blunders are harmless or even amusing, others have had significant consequences. However, they all serve as a reminder of the importance of paying attention to the nuances of language and striving for clear and effective communication.