A Very Funny Typo?

June 28, 2010

I love the poem at the beginning of “The Jungle Book.” But there appeared to be a dreadful (and funny) typo in the best-selling free Kindle edition. See if you can find it…


          NIGHT-SONG OF THE JUNGLE

Now Rann the Kite brings home the night
     That Mang the Bat sets free —
The herds are shut in byre and hut
     For loosed till dawn are we.

This is the hour of pride and power,
     Talon and tush and claw.
Oh, hear the call! — Good hunting all
     That keep the Jungle Law!


See what looks like an out-of-place word? If not, let me help you out. Here’s how the site Urban Dictionary defines the word “tush”.

1. Rear-end, butt, behind
She had a nice tush.

2. what ZZ Top looks for downtown


I didn’t think the animals in Rudyard Kipling’s jungle were hunting with their tushes…

It seems obvious from the context that the word is “tusk.” (And that’s the word that appears in some online editions of the book.)

This is the hour of pride and power,
     Talon and tusk and claw…


But what’s even more interesting is the “tush” version now appears 2,500 times in a Google search – while the “tusk” version appears just 266 times. (That is, almost 90% of the online editions are using the word “tush”.) Even the Encyclopedia Britannica site republished Kipling’s poem with the word “tush”, along with several universities. In fact, according to Google thousands of people are now fondly quoting that version of the poem, including Ask.com, San Diego State University, The Wild India Guide, and a site called The Poetry Lovers Page. My favorite was a medical facility that performs “world-class research in Alzheimer’s disease”. A misguided human resources document quoted the “tush” version of the poem – then added it “could very well be a guide in defining and understanding organizations.” (Tush-friendly organizations are described by the HR document as places that include “unwritten codes and culture,” and adhering to them “determines one’s chances of survival…”)

What’s going on? My friend Andy Baio pointed me to the Oxford English Dictionary, explaining that tush “is another name for the elephant’s early tusk.” And then I felt like kind of a jackass (no pun intended), because as Amazon points out, the free etext was created by “a community of volunteers”, and here I was trying to second-guess their work.

But I’d already noticed some valid complaints about some free Kindle editions of Kipling. And I was a little miffed when I downloaded a free collection of Kipling poetry, and discovered that every single poem appeared without any linebreaks (including classic Kipling poems like “Gunga Din” and “Mandolay”).

But I’d argue that what’s really going on is a quiet triumph for the Kindle – and for the community of volunteers preparing the free texts. Their free version of The Jungle Book is now one of the top 100 best-selling free books in the Kindle store. That’s how I found it, which added me to the pool of people watching for typos.

We can then notify the community of volunteers to make fixes, in a kind of “spontaneous collaboration” to preserve stories that were written more than 100 years ago. It ultimately shows that they’ve already succeeded tremendously in popularizing classic literature to a new world of digital readers — and that those readers, in turn, can help improve the quality of future digital editions.

Yesterday I mentioned Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and how that free edition had become #61 on Kindle’s list of best-selling (free) ebooks. So here’s another tip about free ebooks for Rudyard Kipling fans.

There’s only three stories about Mowgli the jungle boy in The Jungle Book. The other four stories are about other animals. (When I read this book at the age of 13, I was surprised to see the fourth story was “The White Seal” — which is obviously not about a jungle animal at all!) But Kipling included five more stories about Mowgli in an often-overlooked sequel called The Second Jungle Book..

And yet surprisingly, on Amazon’s list of best-selling free ebooks, Kipling’s sequel is only ranked #1,325.