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I was reading about the Internet Archive's work to archive the materials of a famous New York City typewriter family:

http://blog.archive.org/2020/08/26/an-archive-of-a-different-type/

I was interested in reading more about this anecdote, but was unable to find any details other than in profiles of the Tytells:

Imagine being so well-known for your craft that letters addressed to “Mr. Typewriter, New York” would get delivered by the Post Office to your door. Imagine you mount a letter wrong while crafting a typewriter, and it causes a country (Burma) to change that letter to accommodate your mistake.

The New York Times (2008):

He made a hieroglyphics typewriter for a museum curator, and typewriters with musical notes for musicians. He adapted keyboards for amputees and other wounded veterans. He invented a reverse-carriage device that enabled him to work in right-to-left languages like Arabic and Hebrew. An error he made on a Burmese typewriter, inserting a character upside down, became a standard, even in Burma.

https://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/12/nyregion/12tytell.html

The Atlantic (1997):

Martin [Tytell] obtained the type and did the soldering and the keyboards. The implications of the work and its difficulty brought him to near collapse, but he completed it with only one mistake: on the Burmese typewriter he put a letter on upside down. Years later, after he had discovered his error, he told the language professor he had worked with that he would fix that letter on the professor's Burmese typewriter. The professor said not to bother; in the intervening years, as a result of typewriters copied from Martin's original, that upside-down letter had been accepted in Burma as proper typewriter style.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/11/typewriter-man/376988/

Some discussion/skepticism about this claim:


Was a letter in the Burmese alphabet reproduced, upside-down, on Burmese typewriters? Which year did this occur, and which model of typewriters? Does the error persist to this day? What was the scale of the mistake? Did the error make the jump from typewriters to computer keyboards?

Which character specifically is/was upside-down on the keyboard?

Was this upside-down letter accepted as proper typewriter style in Burma?

Was this error ever corrected on Burmese typewriters? Was there opposition to the change?

  • 1
    It wouldn't be the first time that a "missprint" changed the spelling of things. – fredsbend Oct 15 at 15:42

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