I watched the spelling bee on TV a couple of weeks ago and was stumped by word after word: aniseikonia, oberek, randkluft, cachalot, schuhplattler, cilice. It’s all enough to send you reeling back to Andrew Jackson or Mark Twain or Winston Churchill or whoever the hell it was who said “I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way!” As it happens, I’ve been writing lately about words that get spelled and misspelled in lots and lots of ways. My Computing Science column in the July–August issue of American Scientist asks the question: “How many ways can you spell V1@gra?”

Disclaimer: I ask the question but I can’t answer it—or at least I can’t give a definite number or a close approximation.

Another question also goes unanswered. The curious and creative spellings prevalent in spam are (presumably) intended to evade the filters that most of us have installed on our e-mail. Because the word “Viagra” is uncommonly common in spam, most e-mail that mentions it gets dumped in the junk bin. So what do you do if you frequently need to discuss Viagra in your correspondence? In particular, what about Pfizer, the company that makes and markets the stuff? Surely their corporate mail servers can’t be running filters that block all references to their own product.

I tried to find out how Pfizer deals with this problem. I sent an e-mail query to their public relations department. I got no response—which could of course be taken as an answer to my question. I tried following up by telephone, but no one I spoke with was able to shed any light on the issue. So, if anyone from Pfizer should read this, please get in touch; I’d still like to know the answer.

By the way, has anyone noticed that “Pfizer” looks a spelling invented by a spammer?

This entry was posted in computing, modern life.

3 Responses to V1@gra

  1. Jeff Sensabaugh says:

    Rob Cockerham at Cockeyed.com did some computations about ways to spell Viagra. He computed that there are 600,426,974,379,824,381,952 ways to do it according to his parameters.


  2. Jeff Sensabaugh says:

    Oops. I just read the column and you’ve got Rob listed.

  3. B says:

    It is possible Pfizer sends HTML based messages and use an image instead of text for Viagra. But spam filters will still mark the message as spam using all the related text in the rest of the mail.