Costly misinterpretation of a single word

Even simple sentences can be misinterpreted.  Here’s an example of a misread sentence that proved very costly.

The (computer) program’s specification read, in part,

“The exception information will be in the XYZ file, too.”

The programmer took this to mean,

Another place the exception information appears is the XYZ file.”

He assumed, therefore, that the exception information was duplicated somewhere else, so he saw no need for his program to preserve it.

Actually, the writer meant,

“Another type of information that appears in the XYZ file is the exception information.”

Nothing was implied about this information being duplicated elsewhere, and, indeed, it wasn’t duplicated.  As a result, valuable and unrecoverable information was lost.  Before the differing interpretations were discovered, the cost of the lost information had mounted to about $500,000 – rather a large bill for one carelessly placed “too.”

Are Your Lights On? by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg

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