Spam poetry

Sometimes, random is beautiful. Just ask John Cage, the experimental American composer famous for using coin tosses to decide notes while writing music; or beat poets William Burroughs and Byron Gysin, who chopped up other texts and rearranged them to make new poems; or glam-rock maestro David Bowie, who used the same technique to "write" the lyrics to his song "Moonage Daydream."

Given humans' propensity to find beauty in chance and intuit meaning from randomness (which in cinema is called the Kuleshov Effect), it shouldn't be too surprising that the next frontier of language art is only a few mouse-clicks away: your email in-box. In an attempt to retain her sanity while deleting 400+ daily email come-ons from porn sites, weight loss drug-makers and Nairobi businessmen eager to send her money, blogger Kristin Thomas takes revenge on the spammers by stealing their words and spinning them into poetry.

Anyone seen any inadvertently poetic (or hilarious) spam subject lines or message bodies recently? If so, send 'em in and later this week we'll post the best o' the best -- or the worst o' the worst! Meanwhile, here are some gems from Thomas' canon:

Number 1
Quality ink up to 80% off.
Answers Now on the Distortion of Evidence;
Clean your colon.
Improve sense of well being.

Uncover what other's don't want you to know -
Check it out, man -
Success, guaranteed!

What is an MBA really worth?
Ask yourself - could your penis be bigger?
For Target guests,
Its safe, now.

I Used To Have A Pogo Stick Too!

To a man,
contained by lust
a pretty girl is always waiting,
never ending
always satisfied
pretty as a porn star
slutty as a co-ed
smarter than most small cap investors
Dreaming of a better day.

How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

TAKWest, Youtube
Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]


More from mental floss studios