A Very Funny Typo?

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…


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.

10 thoughts to “A Very Funny Typo?”

  1. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/tushes

    This response is necessary because thousands of e-tards aren’t literate enough to have read the same word used many times by many different authors. Tush (tusche in Middle English) means “small tusk”. The difference between Kipling’s long ago editor and several thousand web-rats is that Kipling’s editor was literate. Tusk is reserved for larger animals like elephants and walruses, tush is for much smaller ones like wild pigs.

    Hope all those idiots patting themselves on the back and feeling clever eventually make use of a dictionary or read a book that predates the Kindle age.

  2. It may not be a typo.

    “Tush” meaning your (or my) fanny is, of course, pronounced to rhyme with “push.”

    Now I believe if you look up this word in the Oxford English Dictionary, or maybe even in a regular unabridged dictionary like Webster, you will find that “tush,” pronounced to rhyme with “hush,” “brush,” and “lush,” is actually an old, alternate version of the word “tusk.”

    So, in 2010, we would always say walruses have “tusks,” but in the olden days, you could also, if you felt like it, say they have “tushes” (pronounced to rhyme with “thrushes”).

    And the reason why so many online sources for that poem say “tush” could be because that’s how the word was spelled by the author, and that’s how it was printed in the original printing(s) of “The Jungle Book.”


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  5. The original text is “Tush” may well have been a typo as you say but that’s whats in the first edition and the ones that follow, so the amazon book is correct, it may have been a type setting issue for the original print, I’m not sure if type writers were used at that time, but the h and the k seem to far away for a simple typo. Only the writer will know I guess and he is a little on the dead side?

  6. Good question! Interestingly, I’ve seen it written both ways. (Try searching for it on Google!)

  7. “Tush” is correct. It’s a variant spelling of “tusk,” first attested, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, around 725 A.D. (“Tush,” n.1.) “Rann” is not correct. The poem begins, “Now Chil the kite brings home the night.” Chil with one L.

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