Dredged From the Spam Filter; or: Adventures in Syntax and Logic

Every morning I come into the office, and then several times a day afterwards, I check my spam filter.  It’s a pretty good system that our IT people set us up with, and between that service and Outlook’s junk e-mail capture, there are maybe two or three junk e-mails that make it into my inbox each week.  On the other hand, out of every 1,000 e-mails caught by that spam filter, maybe two or four will be genuine e-mails that I need to see.  The curious thing is that my history of e-mailing, even with file attachments, hyperlinks, and so forth, back and forth with the specific addresses in question seems to have no bearing on whether a particular e-mail from a particular sender will get caught.  There are some senders with whom I’ve been bandying ‘trons back and forth for years that still — only once in a while, and with no discernible pattern — get caught.  Hence my repeated daily checks.

Does Gentle Reader remember that wonderful early 1980s drinking game, Chug Boat?  How it worked was you assembled a group of like-minded tipplers to watch an episode of The Love Boat.  You laid in an adequate supply of beer.  Before it started, you wrote down the characters’ names on slips of paper and tossed them in a hat.  Everyone drew one.  Each time “your” character appeared on screen, you had to take a slug of your beer.  Every time the entire ship appeared on-screen (as it invariably would a couple of times during the episode) you had to finish whatever you had left of the beer you had in your hand.  And if you’d just cracked one open . . . well, let’s just say that around every silver lining there is a cloud.  The beauty of Chug Boat was it was a game with no losers (sort of like Jeffrey Shurtleff said at Woodstock about the draft resistance movement: “the beautiful thing about it is we have no enemies, and to show our hearts are in the right place, we’ll sing a song for the governor of California, Ronald Ray-gunzzz”)

A number of years ago I had an idea for updating the concept of Chug Boat and adapting it to the world of e-mail.  Spam e-mail, to be more precise.  I refer Gentle Reader, of course, to the hilarious subject lines of spam e-mail.  From what I can tell a large amount of it originates from non-English-speaking countries, and of that part that is domestic, its purveyors seem to be in large measure innocent of spelling, syntax, or grammar.

Here’s how the game would work:  You choose, blindly, one person’s spam filter to use as the “race course.”  You would need one person to act as the course steward.  You would assemble your tipplers and beer as above described.  Then everyone would write down words or phrases — think things like “gargantuan erection” or “miracle” or “immense wealth” — which you think likely to occur in the subject lines.  Every player can write down eight or ten on separate pieces of paper.  Some you could designate for the “kill your beer” contingency; you could designate others for the “everybody drink” prize.  You then toss into the hat and draw.  Then the course steward logs into the race course and pulls up the resulting catch, say ten messages at a time.  If you have a word or expression that occurs in any of those subject lines, you drink.  If you drew a “kill your beer” and it hits, then you have to kill your beer.  If an “everybody drink” comes up, well then, everybody drinks.

But that’s not the point of this post.  Gentle Reader will have observed once more a gratuitously lengthy introduction to a post.  I’m bad to do that.  But then again, it’s my blog.

This post is about the subject lines of my spam e-mail.  I expressly mention the subject lines because that’s all I ever see of those e-mails.  You dare not click through to see the text of them.  Yes, I know that theoretically the spam filter should be disabling any links, embeds, or other internal functionality of the messages themselves . . . but that’s theory and the only way I know to be relatively sure is just Don’t Go  There.  Simple enough to understand.

Over the years the subject lines of my spam has slowly shifted.  At first the overwhelming majority was sexual in nature, and concerned itself principally with the dimensions and functionality of My Old Man.  In the latter connection, what we might describe as “endurance” and “re-load time” seemed to be the particular areas of focus.  Interestingly, I don’t recall ever seeing a message offering me the chance to enlarge my breasts.  I would wager that, given the difficulty of a spam-mill’s determining the likely sex of the 150,000,000 target addressees of any particular message, the discrepancy was less likely due to my being male than to the fact that breast augmentation surgery is and has for years been a legitimate, well-established medical procedure, and in fact other than braces on teeth, it’s the single most popular elective medical procedure out there.  So the kind of shady outfits that flog purely natural methods of giving you an erection that will — and it’s difficult sometimes to tell what exactly they’re promising — either scare the women into your bed or have them lining up on the porch to be “pleasure all night long for sure,” are not going to be selling a legitimate service.  I mean, back in the 19th Century would you expect a snake-oil salesman to sell anything other than snake-oil?

As the years have gone by the non-sexual subject lines have picked up, and the sexual ones have changed.  Now a huge chunk of my spam is continuing education spam and what one might call case-lead spam.  The senders are pretty much legitimate operators (Lorman Education, for example, which specializes in construction and engineering subjects, or National Business Institute out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which puts out a host of perfectly useful seminars on an enormous range of helpful subjects), but for whatever reason the filter catches them.  The case-lead spam is typically some outfit that either promises to send you case leads (usually by virtue of your having “bought” a range of ZIP Codes, and they then refer all call-ins from those codes to you), or promises to evaluate specific cases that you’re actually contemplating using.  Some of it’s legal news spam; there’s apparently an operation out there under the name of J.D. Journal; I’ve never linked through to their site so I have no information to share with Gentle Reader as to what sort of operation they might be.

A further goodly chunk of non-sexual spam are e-mails relating to the decrepitude of aging and its avoidance.  [N.b.  All of the subject lines I quote from this point onward are actual subject lines from this morning’s catch.  Bear that in mind.  Today only.]  A few years ago I ended up spending the night in an emergency room near here, having come home on a Saturday afternoon and sat down on my couch, only to have my pulse go through the roof and the sweat begin pouring off my face in sheets.  They kept me overnight for observation and the next day poked and prodded and stuck and jerked and ran my country ass off, all to confirm that — and don’t get me wrong, now; I’m emphatically not complaining about this part of it — there was nothing wrong with my heart.  In a disturbing change, within days my spam filter was full of stuff about how to stop, or ward off, or survive my “next heart attack”.  Really?  That suddenly I start getting that stuff out of the blue?  Nowadays it’s stuff relating to my pancreas, or diabetes (as many Americans as are lard-butts, that’s understandable), or stroke, or otherwise-unspecified “infection”.   “Turn out the lights on infection,” I am assured.  A great deal of the medical spam contains the words “natural” or “proven” in the subject line, which of course is a dead give-away that they’re flogging some sort of dried root that if you’re lucky will only throw your metabolism out of balance.  Come to think of it, “metabolism” is another frequent flyer in the ether of spam.  “Breakthrough” is a very popular word, as is “trick,” especially “weird tricks”.  “Natural remedies for pain relieving on the pulse of your health,” to which the only response can be, “Huh?”

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell precisely what sort of snake oil is being sold.  “Good health state!  It is quite another matter!”  If you say so.  You can tell when you’ve got non-Anglophone spammers on the line because they so frequently just shove words in here and there irrespective of what they might suggest in the context used:  “Need perfect medication? Make profitable move!”  Terrific!!  Get well and line my pockets all at once, and perfectly at that.  “Your confidence in future here”.  I mean, just wow; imagine that.  Confidence in future, all under one roof and discretely wrapped in brown paper, delivered to your door.

“Fat” spam is always popular.  “Feel no shame of weight digit”.  I suppose not.

There’s a family of spam which I have to think originates from the same generator, since no matter whether helping me to pop wood, or get rich, or not die of an exploded aorta, the subject lines all contain the injunction to me “Do not hecitate!”  I will make this claim: Whatever other sins you may properly tax me with, I assure you that hecitation is not on the list.  Promise.

The sexual spam has lost its focus on dimensionality.  I am no longer, it seems, a potential customer for an 11-inch willie.  Now I am awash in offers to get and keep what I do have rock-hard and ready to perform all night long, and repeatedly.  But it’s the actual subject lines which bring me endless innocent fun.

Here’s one:  “Reverse premature ejaculation”.  Warning klaxons of non-English-speaker on this one, folks.  I can understand “curing” that issue, or even “stopping” it.  But “reversing” ejaculation of any sort?  I have to say . . . well, not  that I’d like to see it done, but I’d like to meet a guy who claims to have done it.

Two common phrases which intrigue me by the very concept(s) suggested are “Viagra Professional” and “Cialis Professional”.  Other than woodsmen in the porn industry, precisely whose use of those products could possibly be considered “professional”?  And what does it say of our language’s debasement of the concept of a “profession” that anyone could think of putting those words right next to each other?  I mean, if you want something of an insider’s look at that “profession,” you could do worse than Susannah Breslin’s look at how the Great Crash of 2007, arriving on the heels of the massive disruption in the sex industry wrought by the internet generally (I refer Gentle Reader to The Economist’s special section, done in the late 1990s, on the international sex industry generally; times were already getting bad for the old-line operators), affected the skin trades(short version: devastation and cheapening, if that’s possible, of an already sordid scene), “They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?”  Whatever else you might describe it as, a “profession” it ain’t.

At least those subject lines don’t catch the eye for being possibly internally contradictory.  I regularly see subject lines advertising “Viagra soft”.  Well, no guys; that is exactly not why I’d be interested in your product.  If I were.

Once upon a time there was this fellow living in my town.  If you got a couple of beers in him, he would, as sure as tomorrow’s sunrise, begin telling you in exhausting and entirely unnecessary — to say nothing of unwelcome — detail about his Viagra use.  Just on and on he’d go.  He was so famously tiresome that whenever he walked into the bar, those of us <ahem!> regulars would immediately and in whispers begin to place side bets on how long it would take him to start gassing on about Gettin’ It Up.  He made the mistake of doing this with my father once.  My father is a good fifteen-plus years older than this guy.  So my father asked him how old he was.  He ‘fessed up, whereupon my father allowed, “You know, if I was a man your age I don’t know as I’d admit to needing that stuff.”

The guy mentioned above is surely the target audience for “Don’t know how?  Viagra Super Active will work it for you!”  Work it, baby, work it for me.  Recurring to an expression already mentioned above, we offer: “Need perfect medication? Cialis daily.  Make profitable move”.  And just in case one is worried about plonking down the hard-earned with some internet huckster, you may ease your mind:  “Get Cialis daile of highest quality here”.  You’ve got me; I’ll go there for all my “daile” needs for “perfect medication”.

What kind of sad sacks must the spammers think we all are?  Gentle Reader will recall back in 2004, when John Kerry thought he could get by lying about his military service, and Dan Rather thought he could throw a presidential election by doing a 60 Minutes segment on transparently, and almost comically incompetently crafted, fraudulent documents.  And then the internet got hold of them, and notwithstanding Rather tried to dismiss them as a “bunch of guys sitting in their parents’ basement wearing pajamas” (or some expression like that), both of them got quickly revealed for the liars they are.  I bring this memory up because that must be very close to how their targets are imagined by the authors of these subject lines:

“Need confidence?  Now you can have it.  Order Levitra”.  Have to love that product name: Levitra.  Clever, isn’t it, all reminiscent of “levitation” and “levitate”; you can almost see the results as you’re handing them your credit card information.

“It is joy time! Be a real man.  We’ll help”.  Of course you will, ol’ friend; of course you will.

“Healthy body and strong erection! Choose Cialis Daily”.  At least they spelled “daile” correctly in that one.  But the “healthy body” part?  Do they picture their customer, all dropsical and motoring around his parents’ basement in one of those “personal mobility scooters,” incontinent perhaps and wheezing from the mass of blubber suffocating his every heartbeat, excitedly licking his lips as he signs up for weekly shipments of enough Cialis to take the stuff every day?

Along the same lines:  “Don’t be afraid of your fantasies!  Use Kamagra Brand Oral Jelly”.  Oral jelly?  To me that would seem to indicate something taken . . . well, by mouth, rather than larded onto the . . . errrmmm . . . relevant anatomical features.  But why a jelly if you’re going to be taking the stuff by the spoonful?  And how does the application of jelly transmit itself to . . . well, you know?

That last one is one product the exact functioning of which I can’t say is really apparent, at all, from its subject lines, as see immediately above.  For that matter, it’s not even really apparent that the spammers themselves quite know what they’re touting:  “Buy effective tabs only here!  Choose Kamagra Brand Oral Jelly”.  About the only “jelly” I’ve ever bought came from the Smucker’s company and was grape flavored.  [Apropos of nothing: I don’t like jelly; the stuff won’t spread evenly and what you end up with, if you’re not willing to tear your child’s PBJ into shreds with the knife, is great gobs of flavored sugar separated by thin smears of ditto.  Give me jam or preserves every time.]  But I don’t ever recall Smucker’s grape coming in a tablet, or even a capsule.

Some subject lines might seem to hint at the drafter’s age.  Key words like “fantasy” don’t do it; I mean, from a popular language-usage perspective there’s not much of a temporal element in the word.  But “Feel the love energy! Buy at our shop”?  Or “Cialis Daily – your main equipment for love adventures”?  I’m getting a major 1970s vibe out of those.

Referring back to my observation above about my hunch that the spammers can’t really target their spam by sex-target, several times a week I’ll get something like “Female Viagra will never let you down. Best price here!”  I understand there is stuff that you can sift into your girl’s drink to render her sufficiently insensible, but also still functional, that you end up like those scuzzy football players from Vanderbilt University, at least one of whom went from a full-ride scholarship at a Division I program to looking at spending several decades behind bars.  I’ve never done that myself; I’ve never seen it done; and in fact I’ve never heard anyone even advert in my presence to having done it or seen it done or knowing someone who had.  But every depiction I’ve seen of it (invariably on some show like Law & Order) involves a powdered substance.  I mean, if the entire point is to slip her a mickey so she doesn’t know it, she’s going to see a tablet or capsule at the bottom of the glass or bottle before it has a chance to dissolve, right?  And there goes not only your game, but you probably just made it into the next round of “attempted sexual assault” indictments.  So I have to assume that “female Viagra” is something that She would take with knowledge of the purpose yes?  How then, as a male, would I think of female Viagra “letting me down”; would it not make more sense to think in those terms if I were the female?  I dunno; maybe I’m just parsing things too closely.

In any event, for a few minutes’ harmless diversion each day, I can highly recommend to Gentle Reader a scan of the actual subject lines from the daily harvest of e-mail spam (remember: never, ever, ever click through to see any those messages, not even in the spam filter’s preview pane).

Don’t hecitate, now!

[Update: 04 Mar 17]:  For a brief moment the other day I’d toyed with the notion of having a daily spam subject-line winner, posting ditto on this ‘umble blog.  Then I realized that the candidate pool is just too deep and wide, by several orders of magnitude.  I’d be spending my entire day cackling and typing out idiotic quotations from my spam filter.  I guess I’ll just have to toss stuff up here on a random, ad hoc basis.  So be it.

Today, however, we have what I think may have a strong claim to classic status:  “Impotence come on the heels? Don’t hecitate! Buy Cialis Daily”.  No.  Just no.  Observe:  There’s that injunction against hecitation, again.

We also have this stumper:  “Discover the safe stripe of life”.  I’ve heard of the jaws of life.  If you listen to bluegrass you’ll know all about the Sunny Side of Life.  But the “stripe” of life, and the “safe” one at that?  What might be the hazardous stripe of life?  Deeply puzzling.

[Update: 07 Mar 17]:  Oh boy, it just keeps getting better.  From this afternoon, we have:  “Excite your communication thirst”.  Really.  I have to wonder whether the (obviously non-Anglophone) composer of that has a list of most-frequently-searched words from wherever, and just shoves in a selection of the Top 50 in random order.  This morning, by the way, I was once again assured of a “Strong erection for sure!”  Now that will restore my confidence in future.