Spam, virus, phishing etc. (was: do these guys think we are idiots or what?

Geoffrey Nathan geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU
Thu Apr 1 13:46:45 UTC 2010

Victor raises some interesting terminological questions. For me, a virus is a *program*. An e-mail message can *spread* a virus, but can't *be* one. On the other hand, it's not spam (which is, for me, unwanted junk mail), and it's not technically phishing either, because it's not 'fishing'--i.e. attempting to hook you into divulging valuable stuff.
The original sense of 'spam' is still around, as you can tell when Wayne State faculty complain about 'spam' from the administration, but it's clear that the sense of the term is widening (as often happens with words--think of 'dog' and similar terms we teach in Intro classes.) It'll be interesting to watch this change in progress.


Geoffrey S. Nathan
Faculty Liaison, C&IT
and Associate Professor, Linguistics Program
+1 (313) 577-1259 (C&IT)
+1 (313) 577-8621 (English/Linguistics)

----- "Victor Steinbok" <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

> From: "Victor Steinbok" <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Sent: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 11:48:52 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern
> Subject: Re: do these guys think we are idiots or what?
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: do these guys think we are idiots or what?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I have a different question--when did viruses become spam? Once upon
> a
> time, there were three kinds of problems with email--spam
> (unsolicited
> offers, which may have been real offers or get-rich-quick schemes,
> boiler-room schemes, etc.), "infections" (virus- or worm-infected
> mail),
> and phishing (offers not only unsolicited but too good to be true,
> which, of course, they were--usually intended for the recipient to
> give
> up secure information). This was some time after phishing became a
> separate category but before we started calling everything "junk
> mail".
> In common use, there was rarely a difference between viruses and
> worms,
> but, otherwise, the three groups were distinct. Now "junk mail" and
> "spam" are nearly synonymous and include all three categories. Did
> anyone notice that?
> The Hallmark Greeting "spam" is actually a virus. There is somewhat of
> a
> blend technique here, as the message invites you to do something to
> cause a problem on your end. But it is not "phishing" because it does
> not ask you for personal information, it just invades your computer
> upon
> one careless click. Spam, unless you actually choose to spend money
> on
> worthless products is a nuisance, but otherwise harmless. Phishing
> scams
> have many subdivisions, including the "Nigerian letter scam", but the
> most common ones for a while now have been fake credit card and bank
> (or
> ebay or paypal) messages telling you that your account has been
> compromised and you have to change you password or add security
> information (even if you don't have an account with that particular
> bank). Infections usually have attached files, phishing messages have
> overlayered links and original spam is just bullshit, but often have
> links now to the supposed sale sites. So, technically, the
> distinction
> is quite clear. There are version of these for social networks and
> some
> infections no longer need a click to infect your computer, but,
> otherwise, the distinctions have been stable for a long time.
> Yet, in popular view, these are all spam now.
>      VS-)
> On 3/31/2010 10:36 PM, Dan Goncharoff wrote:
> > Why are e-cards spam? Are greeting cards junk mail? Or just when
> misspelled?
> >
> > DanG
> >
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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