On appropriateness in spam

In belated celebration of St Brigid’s Day (and – pertinent here – poetry, hope, and healing) and the Chinese New Year: herewith the first proper Tangent du jour of the new year.


The FMRSI has been in existence for a little over eight months now. At the time of writing, the site comprises over 900 items (pages, posts, and comments) and has been viewed over 33000 times – including nearly 2500 views of the HOME page and just over 2000 of EVENTS. We’ve also had over 1700 spam comments (I stopped checking exact figures a few weeks ago…), none of which ever actually appeared on the Forum; thanks to Akismet’s filtering, and assisted by “allowable comments” being on the most protective and jealously-guarded setting, and by my having added The Usual Suspect words to a block-immediately list.

A few months ago, we had a spate of invitations to view short films online, films of doubtless a most entertaining and delectable nature were that one’s cup of tea. These had nearly slipped through, assorted generous strangers having thought the Forum would be interested (or indeed a site of similar mind) because of the frequency of certain key terms we have in common: “Anglo-Saxon” – “gender” – “history” – “Irish” – “literature” – “medicine” – “new” – “old” – “women” – and a number of other geographical terms, and certain words appearing in conference titles and the like.

A positive interpretation would be that the Forum is doing its job of reaching out, and spreading The Message to a very broad populace. And that – from a purely lexical angle – we share much common ground with the broad swathe of humanity in general. (For an institutionalised academic, that’s probably good news.)

Our more recent spam-fan trend has been almost entirely medical. Sensible, I’m sure, as it’s winter and one way to stay warm is through combining two or more persons’ body heat. Call me smutty and puerile, but this is just not as amusing as our autumnal trend.

First and foremost, I should assure you that words like “history” will NOT be appearing in the block-list any time soon. On a more abstracted and refined note, it’s curious to see patterns (and maybe trends?) emerging in spam, and quite heartening to see something maybe approaching creativity in a spammer’s attempts to get his piece (as it were) onto (into?) as many sites as possible, through choice of words – covering all bases. If this is machine-produced, I’m even more impressed.

But there’s still work to be done, O my spamming friends, on the syntactic level. Our spams have followed three stylistic patterns:

  • Strings of disconnected words; no verbs or anything resembling structure; intended for a reader (human, electronic) whose approach is to scan text for the desired individual words. Standard for the medical spam; occasional for the erotic. What’s intriguing here is the phenomenon of random strings very nearly producing sense and content appropriate for our site  – albeit in a Surrealist-poetry way. As soon as one “works,” it’s going up here – cleaned of its links – on the VILLAGE GREEN.
  • Fairly coherent and approximately correct text. Often with narrative. You guessed correctly: this is always erotica (settling for the most Polite and Proper adjective, as giving them the benefit of the doubt here). Sometimes let down by collapse into cornucopian lists – understandable, given the rich variety of delights on offer. It must all be a bit dizzying for the poor writer. I’ve also spotted some good healthy use of the conditional and subjunctive. Most invigorating.
  • Very nearly well-written letters in response to Calls for Papers and items on postgraduate courses and scholarships. Sometimes from individuals, sometimes from institutions. I admit to having nearly fallen for the very best ones: but for that – however eventual – tell-tale niggling use of over-emphasis and command: “we must attend,” “you must arrange…” And by tell-tale, it’s also surely the case that thereby hangs a tale: such structures and the attitudes behind them are not only acceptable but normal in some other countries less happy than ours; those deep-ingrained linguistic structures give an ironic note to the tragic pathos of our spammer’s desire to leave and come here.

As soon as we have our first piece of appropriate spam it’s going straight into the VILLAGE GREEN, and might even get a special prize (the perpetrators having been tracked down). Jaw-dropping spam-poems will also go straight to the Loebner Prize and other Turing Test people.

We haven’t done too badly, by the way, according to Akismet’s Live Spam Zeitgeist:

  • 9,496,325,076 spams caught so far
  • 5,573,081 so far today
  • 84% of all comments are spam

(11:18, 2009-02-02)


“Come on, we’re waiting…”

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