Monday, April 28, 2014

Probali* (for Probabili*)

"The fact that I probably didn't back down led to me being shot," explained the victim in a television news story the other night. He was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like the word probably is in that sentence. At any rate, I'm glad to know he's all right, despite the terrible odds. I knew that I would probably have some trouble finding a good image to go with this typo, since "probability" brings up a lot of boring curves and charts and doesn't really lend itself to arty illustrations. But I searched Wikimedia Commons on various forms of the word anyway and discovered a most improbable figure named Tennessee Claflin. Or as the poster of this pic entitled it: "Probably Tennie Claflin." She was also known as Tennessee Claflin Cook, Tennie Celeste Claflin, Lady Cook, and Lady Tennessee Celeste Claflin. The reputed mistress of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the sister of Victoria Woodhull (who ran for president in 1872), Claflin was one of the first women to open a brokerage firm on Wall Street. She supported the legalization of prostitution and believed that women should be allowed to serve in the military. Claflin also ran for Congress in New York State and apparently liked to cross-dress from time to time as well. Today's typo was found 27 times in OhioLINK and an astounding 1348 times in WorldCat. There may be a few false positives among them, such as personal names and foreign or obsolete spellings, but the vast majority are probably for words like probability, probabilistic, and so on.

(Portrait of Tennie Claflin by Matthew Brady, circa 1860-1865, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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