The Poetic Imperative of Email Scams: A Literary Consideration


Good Evening:

We have all received them. The classic “Nigerian Scam” emails (a.k.a the “419”) with the ridiculous claims and bizarre language promising ridiculously bizarre amounts of money. Of course you my readers have never fallen for these scams and clicked the “Mark as Spam” button as soon as possible.

But you might miss out on something. You might miss out on the poetry.

By a weird coincidence, I received a 419 on the same day that I saw Scamoramaland, a play about Nigerian scammers and the counterscammers who try to trick them in return. But this was different from most.

This scam included poetry. Like most email scams, this one came with random characters at the end; if you ever wondered, their purpose consists of defeating spam filters. Oddly enough, however, they sometimes kinda sorta make poetic sense. Like this:

from states here we have not met the solicitation requirements, we know of

conversation and ot too much to prevent monologue. philip was captivated. he did

serpentine, characteristic ttitude; every movement wafted to him the oppressive perfume she wore;

the curious ensation), he felt happy and anxious and expectant. to his memory

Ever read TS Eliot? This really feels a lot like The Hollow Men, or perhaps the early sections of The Waste Land, like perhaps a lost first draft of a passage that Eliot eventually discarded upon the suggestion of Ezra Pound. Let me edit it slightly and you might see what I mean.

From states here we have not met the solicitation requirements,

we know of conversation and of too much to prevent monologue.

Philip was captivated. 

he did serpentine, characteristic attitude;

every movement wafted to him the oppressive perfume she wore;

(the curious sensation),

he felt happy and anxious and expectant to his memory.

Not bad, huh? And the next thing you know, someone says “O O O O That Shakespearian rag, it’s so elegant, so intelligent.” In fact, let’s reward this poem with a photograph, in a suitably austere, restrained style.

Grey Series #235, 2 November 2013

Grey Series #235, 2 November 2013

But the world of spam poetry is hardly limited to the Modernist aesthetics of St. Louis-born English aesthetes! There’s more than one way to write bad Nigerian scam poetry! Check out the vibrant rhythms, anarchic spelling, and reckless imagery of the following (a scam of Spanish origin):


Dear: Sir/Madam,

We Apologies, for the delay of your payment and all the Inconveniences  and Inflict that we might have indulge you through. However, we were having some minor problems with our payment system, which is Inexplicable, and have held us stranded and Indolent, not having the Aspiration to devote our 100% Assiduity in accrediting foreign payments. 

We apologies once again from the Records of outstanding winners due for payment with {ONLINE CYBER PROMOTION} your name and particular was discovered as next on the list of the outstanding winners who have not yet received their payments. 

I wish to inform you now that the square peg is now in square whole and can be voguish in this regards,your payment is being processed and will be released to you as soon as you respond to this letter. Also note that from our record, your outstanding winning payment is valued US$950.215.00 (NINE HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND,TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN DOLLARS).

Payment will be made to you in a certified bank draft or wire transfer into a nominated bank account of your choice, as soon as you get in touched with.

Mr. Freeman Pilot

No question about it: the spirit of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and the entire Beat Nation pulses and vibrates throughout in joyous gushing of words and phrases! What freedom from mere totalitarian rules of spelling and grammar! See how much more depth and meaning you cram into “square whole” instead of writing the staid and stereotypical “square hole!”

This poem deserves a picture as colorful as its verse:

The Instant Art of Instant Abstract Art #570, 2 November 2013

The Instant Art of Instant Abstract Art #570, 2 November 2013

See what you miss when you delete a scam and block the sender without even reading it first? Look how it inspired me: I managed to fit instructive examples of online criminal behavior, spam converted into poetry, really atrocious literary criticism, and a few token pix into a single blogpost!

Saying “Datta Dayadvam Damyatta, Daddy-O” as I wear a black beret and black turtleneck with Ray-Ban Wayfarers, draw on a filterless cigarette, suck down a glass of cheap red wine, and listen to ‘Trane’s 1961 Vanguard show in the back of a smoke-filled San Francisco book and record store, I remain,

Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair

Can ya dig it, cats?


13 responses »

  1. I dunno, but i been told (have read) that the scammers “borrow” bits of legitimate English language writings (certainly automated, and i don’t have any clue about the details) for poisoning the Baysean spam filters, which is my understanding of the purpose (Bayesian spam filters being ones which learn to discern ham [desired emails] from spam [unwanted junk emails] by being fed some of each in the proper way). Me? I just feed my personal Bayesian filter more ham and it figures things out.

    I also recall reading (from a source i did not retain) that scammers *intentionally* use weird/odd/bad grammar/sentence structure, for the purpose of not wasting the time of more intelligent people. The idea is: greedy, less intelligent people are more likely to follow along with the scammer’s game, whereas informed, intelligent people are more likely to report them to their upstream ESP (Email Service Provider) and get them shut down, costing them real time and money, requiring them to seek a new scam-friendly ESP (or bank of hijacked PCs, usually running Windoze). I only recall seeing this in one source (with no references/hard evidence) so it may be bunkum, but it’s an interesting theory.

    —Spam Killah! Killah! Killah! since 1995
    (Bonus points to those who catch the obscure reference to the start of a somewhat popular Industrial Dance song from circa 1990, released in the U.S. on Wax Trax Records.)

    • S. P.: Everything you have written matches what I have learned about email scams. The scammers do use “bits of legitimate English” to thwart Baysean filters. As for using really bad English, they do want to avoid entangling with anyone intelligent; they want their victims to “self-select” themselves, as described in the Wikipedia entry on the “Nigerian Scam.” As for obscure references, don’t the first six words of your post hearken back to old Led Zep (“Black Cow?”)? “I don’t know, but I been told/Gotta feeling that woman/Ain’t got no soul” somehow sticks in my brain. Vonn Scott Bair

      • Hmmm… actually i made *two* song references. You’re correct on the one i’d not considered, other than it was Black Dog and the reference in that song as i understand it comes from much earlier blues songs. The more obscure reference i was thinking about was my signature Spam Killah Killah Killah Killah line, from a favorite song of mine that i (and others) used to play on KALX circa 1990. That one’s still open to guesses from all comers (and i will be impressed by those who get it correctly… it’s not a literal quote from the song, until one changes the Spam word to a different one-syllable word).

      • S. P.: I cheated and resorted to online searching. Do you refer an Eazy-E piece whose title I will not mention because I try to avoid using that kind of language? Vonn Scott Bair

      • Well… i am not aware of Easy-E having done anything in the Industrial Dance genré (think: Sisters of Mercy, Gruesome Twosome, Meat Beat Manifesto), and AFAIK he was never on Wax Trax.

        It’s fairly obscure, so i might as well call the game over and write that the song is Dub Killer by Greater Than One from what iTunes tells me is their 1991 album Index. My CD is (and the KALX LP was) on Wax Trax, but iTunes lists the label as K=K Recordings (new to me), which might have thrown off a search.

        Link to the iTunes sample page for the album Index:

        Unfortunately, their sample does not include the Rastafarian-sounding gentleman at the very beginning saying, “Dub KILLAH! KILLAH! KILLAH! KILLAH!”, which was my original reference.

        What fascinates me the most about this song is that the duo constituting the group was from London (and many of the samples used thus make sense), but they heavily sample American religious preacher-types, and most interesting to me, they somehow came upon a sample of KYMS, which when i was high school age in the 1970s was a pop/rock commercial FM station in Orange County (California), but around the late ’80s/start of the ’90s was apparently a Christian station.

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