Comprehend this!

« previous post | next post »

Perhaps the most illiterate phishing spam yet: ignoring the incompetence of having Velez Restrepo as the sender, jg_van88 (at a Chinese address) as the reply-to, and Mr(.) John Galvan as the alleged sender, with the X-Accept-Language set to Spanish, this message has at least 20 linguistic errors in the text, which is roughly one for each four words.

From gvelez@une.net.co
Wed Dec 15 11:11:57 2010
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 2010 03:11:43 -0800
From: velez restrepo guillermo <gvelez@une.net.co>
Subject: Comprehend This Proposal
Bcc:
Reply-to: jg_van88@w.cn
X-Mailer: Sun Java(tm) System Messenger Express 7.3-11.01 64bit (built Sep 1 2009)
X-Accept-Language: es
Priority: normal

Good day,

I am Mr John Galvan a staff of a private offshore AIG Private bank united kingdom.

I have a great proposal that we interest and benefit you, this proposal of mine is worth of £15,500,000.00 Million Pounds.I intend to give Four thy Percent of the total funds as compensation for your assistance. I will notify you on the full transaction on receipt of your response if interested, and I shall send you the details.

Kind Regards,
Mr. John Galvan

The errors I count as linguistic begin with the strange subject line, which instructs me to comprehend. There's a reason why the verb comprehend is very rare in imperative clauses: comprehending is not something you can be told to do, it has to happen to you. My job as a professor would be very different if it made sense to command that students comprehend what I'm trying to explain, rather than just hope.

The message has mistakes at all levels of orthography (e.g., random capitalization), lexical choice, and syntax. Don't ask me about how that occurrence of thy got in the percentage expression; I have no idea.

The programming work involved in getting a Sun workstation to send out carefully prepared scam bait to a million people is surely quite significant. So every day as I delete things like this (no spam screening spotted that it was spam, incidentally), I find myself wondering why scam spammers don't find an English-speaking partner in crime who could correct the text to make the message vaguely plausible as a cold-call letter from a responsible English bank staff member with access to lost accounts? I guess it's because they are somewhere where they could no more get their hands on a literate native English speaker than they could come up with "£15,500,000.00 Million Pounds".

There aren't many clues to language origin in the message. The time zone it appears to have come (eight hours earlier than the time in the UK) from is the one for the Pacific Coast of the Americas — but that's probably just the address of a hijacked zombie workstation in Seattle or Los Angeles email account on a machine in Colombia (thanks to a commenter below for pointing out that very plausible hypothesis). The language is bad enough that I'm inclined to think the genuine part is the jg_van88@w.cn address in China. Feel free to mail him and waste his time if you think it would be fun, but I have emails to delete, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Share:



72 Comments »

  1. Matt Heath said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 9:54 am

    Don't ask me about how that occurrence of thy got in the percentage expression;

    To me "four thy" looks like a wrongly chosen spell-check correction for some misspelling of "forty".

  2. Someone said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 9:56 am

    I agree with Matt Heath. My guess is that someone typed in "fourty", and somehow spellcheckfailed that into "four thy".

    Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to coin the word "spellcheckfailed" and it to my collection of awful neologisms.

  3. Mark P said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:03 am

    Fifteen million million pounds would be quite a take. That's more than the current US GPD. They ought to be able to hire an out-of-work American with an MA in English Lit with that kind of money.

    Of course I have seen similar mistakes in reasonably literate US sources.

  4. Bob Couttie said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:09 am

    But how do Nigerians known when they've won the lottery?

  5. jan wohlgemuth said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:12 am

    You gave the answer yourself:
    > (no spam screening spotted that it was spam, incidentally)

    Random spelling etc. errors could be a good thing to escape spamfilters that are based on word lists.

  6. Alon Lischinsky said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:18 am

    @Someone:

    I agree with Matt Heath. My guess is that someone typed in "fourty", and somehow spellcheckfailed that into "four thy".

    I believe standard LL terminology for this is Cupertino effect.

  7. John Cowan said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:19 am

    Spammers copy from each other, and I would say that capitalizing the currency unit is a trope, even a cliche, of the genre.

  8. gribley said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:20 am

    I thought four percent (or Four Percent, in the modern English fashion of capitalizing words that seem slightly more important than other words) was a modest offer, perhaps in an attempt to look more professional. But Matt's "fourty" theory above certainly dashes that idea.

    I haven't seen an email like this in many many months; I use gmail for home and work. I assume their filters are good because they draw correlations on the massive volume of email they handle, rather than any reliance on semantic filters. But imagine how many emails, never mind text messages, would be lost if we filtered for grammar!

  9. Matt Heath said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:22 am

    @Alon Lischinsky Ah, thanks. I knew that term from here, but misremembered it as being reserved for when auto-correct had put the error.

  10. Chris said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    What actually probably happened here (on a technical level) is that our friend Velez Restrepo Guillermo got his account phished — he replied to an email asking for his username and password — and the would-be scammers are now using a simple program to log in to the (probably well-configured) Sun mailserver and send mail as him. It's a pretty common avenue of attack because it requires no technical flaws in the mail server, and even a locked-down, secured server can be used. So a lot of this is likely "legitimate" in some sense — the message probably really did come from a server in Columbia, and Sr. Velez is catching hell from his system administrator.

    The text is also pretty standard in my experience. Even better than this sort of thing is when the scammer starts out with "Dear {{NAME}}." That's swell.

  11. John Roth said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:32 am

    Unfortunately, the effort required for this kind of nonsense is rather trivial, since there's an entire underground support industry. The person writing the spam is almost certainly not the person who did the programming. He just paid someone for access to the bot network and someone else for the mailing list.

    As Jan Wohlgemuth said above, a certain level of illiteracy is a good thing in getting past spam filters.

  12. Spell Me Jeff said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:33 am

    I'm not quite hijacking here, but picking up on the Cupertino effect.

    Does anyone know if there a comparable word for thesaurus havoc? In an intro writing class, I asked some freshmen to paraphrase a short passage on the existence of water in space. Comets, Mars, and moons of Saturn and Jupiter were specifically mentioned as possible locations, creating a very clear context for discussion. One of my students managed to substitute, "living world" for the word "universe" and was very put out when I suggested that she really should have known better.

    I've tried Google, to no avail. Searching for "Cupertino effect" thesaurus -zimmer yields less than 300 hits, some of which discuss the phenom without naming it. (Not removing Zimmer's name complicates the matter for obvious reasons.)

  13. Shangwen said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:41 am

    If I do the math conversion correctly, the 15,500,000.00 Million Pounds (love the precision) is really 15.5 Trillion Pounds! It's the whole UK economy for more than two years. How could you refuse a deal like that?

  14. MattF said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:45 am

    Back in 2002, D-squared, an internet-famous economist. offered some analysis on the internet scam business:

    http://d-squareddigest.blogspot.com/2002/10/dial-419-for-fun-along-with-shrill.html

  15. Amy Reynaldo said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    The proper notation for £15,500,000.00 Million Pounds is 15.5 trillion pounds squared. Once you get the exponent in there, it's an entirely different dimension of money you're talking about.

  16. Tim said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:03 am

    We have gotten countless numbers of these and I always get a chuckle out of reading them because they are so poorly written. They might as well say that they are scam bait and not to bother reading the email!!

  17. Rick S said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:07 am

    @Spell Me Jeff: Why not invent one? Suggestion: the onomasticon effect.

  18. Helen said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:08 am

    I work as a translator (from English to my native language), and I often encounter English sentences that use 'understand' in imperatives. I always have to reword those sentences when translating because otherwise they'd just sound wrong in my native language – for the reason that you mentioned. Do you feel that there is a difference between 'comprehend' and 'understand' in this regard (namely, that you can command someone to do one and not the other), or do you share my intuition that 'understand' in imperative is just as bizarre?

    [I agree with you, Helen. With the exception of the semi-idiomatic formula "Please understand," used as a preface to a clarification ("Please understand me, I didn't mean to imply that you were overweight, I just wanted to warn you about that chair being fragile"), we seldom use understand or comprehend or any of their near-synonyms (take in, grasp, perceive, gather, realize, apprehend) in imperative clauses. —GKP]

  19. Henning Makholm said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:08 am

    The overt errors are most likely deliberate. The scam works best if you can get the mark to believe he can outsmart the scammer. So it's in the scammer's interest to seem as stupid and incompetent as possible. That calls for pretty blatant errors, if they are to be picked up by the kind of reader who thinks there is actually gold at the end of the rainbow.

  20. Rick S said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:11 am

    Oops! I neglected to add that while thesaurus.com gives "onomasticon" as a synonym for "thesaurus", Wiktionary defines onomasticon as "A book, list, or vocabulary of names, especially of people" (emphasis mine).

  21. Robert Coren said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:23 am

    @Mark P: Of course I have seen similar mistakes in reasonably literate US sources.

    Which just goes to show how low the bar for "reasonably literate" is these days.

    …Which in turn goes to show how much of an old Curmudgeon I am.

  22. Mark P said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:28 am

    @Helen – I think "understand" as an imperative means essentially "note," as in, "Understand that this word is used advisedly."

  23. Allen said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:33 am

    "The programming work involved in getting a Sun workstation to send out carefully prepared scam bait to a million people is surely quite significant."

    The Sun (Oracle now) Messaging Exchange Server would not necessarily be run on a Sun workstation. It's implemented in Java and can easily be run on a variety of platforms. It competes with MS Exchange and Lotus Notes. I assume it should be pretty easy to get it to send out large volumes of spam. If it were difficult, it would be a pretty useless MTA.

  24. Joe said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:51 am

    @Random spelling etc. errors could be a good thing to escape spamfilters that are based on word lists.

    This is right on. Spammers not only have to convince human e-mail recipients but also non-human pattern recognition programs (ie, spam filters) that they're legit. The design of (or the attacks against) these filters are probably a great area for applying some of the linguistics concepts GKP identified here.

  25. Malo Juevo said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:53 am

    This e-mail doesn't look like the beginning of a phishing attempt. Rather, it looks like advance fee fraud (commonly known as 419, after the section of the Nigerian code that is supposed to deal with it). This is a primarily Nigerian scam. (Oddly enough, different countries with significant online criminal communities have their own characteristic scam types; Romanians, for example, run a lot of fake escrow services, which they use to purchase items from online sellers without actually paying.)

    The Nigerian 419 scam goes back to long before e-mail (although the Internet has obviously allowed the industry to expand tremendously, while simultaneously diminishing the sophistication required to run one). In the old days, the criminals would often negotiate fake business deals, fly the marks to Lagos for meetings, and then demand bribes in order to get the deal closed. Now, they just spam e-mail addresses looking for people willing to get involved in some kind of large (generally fraudulent) financial transaction. Pretty soon, they're asking for bribes/fees/whatever to smooth the process along.

    There are whole gangs running these scams. Having hacked into the accounts of many of these crooks, I have seen how they work. Some of the gangs are very sophisticated, but more are composed of unemployed young men working out of dirty Internet cafes. These low-level workers ("catchers" in their own parlance–so called because they are responsible for catching the interest of potential marks) people are generally poorly educated and speak poor English. Once a catcher gets ahold of somebody who might really pay out, they often begin cooperating with a more skilled "oga," who has experience completing these scams. But until that point, the catchers are pretty much free to send out whatever scam e-mails they like. They share them around and often send them out without even reading them. While they may buy access to scamming botnets and other distribution facilities, they have no other association with the skilled hackers/programmers who assemble such botnets.

    Having looked over the active accounts of many of these scammers, as well as calling and warning their potential victims, I found that the people most likely to be taken in were not native English speakers either. People raised in America, Canada, Britain, etc. tend to be pretty good at recognizing these scams for what they are. People coming from less affluent parts of the world themselves are more susceptible. There are probably several factors in this: less familiarity with computers (and computer crime specifically), often less financial sophistication and direr circumstances, and poorer English skills. One consequence of this is that improving the English in these e-mails (as well as being generally beyond the catchers' abilities) does not necessarily have a big payoff. The people who are really likely to get conned are not so likely to alerted by the poor quality of the language.

    [Posted anonymously because of the references to white hat activities]

  26. h. s. gudnason said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 11:59 am

    @Helen: Expanding slightly on what Mark P wrote, that use of "understand" in the imperative is perfectly acceptable.

    My initial impulse was to write that it was perfectly cromulent, but in the context that seemed a little rude.

  27. Faldone said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

    The use of comprehend for understand would be perfectly natural for a native Spanish speaker. ¿Comprende?

  28. Margaret L said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

    Spell Me Jeff: Actually, I think your own phrase "thesaurus havoc" has a nice ring to it. I nominate that.

  29. Bill Walderman said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    ". . . 'understand' as an imperative means essentially 'note,' as in, 'Understand that this word is used advisedly.'"

    @ Helen: To complete the explanation, "comprehend" can't be used to mean "note" in English, even though it's essentially interchangeable with "understand" in other contexts, nor can "grasp," which in one sense is also a synonym of "understand."

  30. Rick S said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    @Helen: Expanding even further on Mark P's and h. s. gudnason's remarks, the English word "understand" may have a slightly broader semantic range than the most direct equivalent in your native language. One of its meanings is to "believe based on information", typically in construction with a clausal complement, for example "I understand (that) you've been looking for me." In the imperative, the meaning is "be informed". This is the meaning Mark P referred to with the gloss "note" above.

    If you're instead referring to the "perceive" meaning of "understand", I would agree that in the imperative it's maybe a little awkward, like "comprehend" (which some dictionaries list as a synonym for "understand"). It might still be used that way, though. For example, you might hear "Understand what I'm telling you!", but in this case the intent is to encourage rather than to demand; it's meant to evoke an effort rather than strict compliance. In turn, that might reflect a difference between our native languages in the uses of the imperative mood—some languages use other moods (especially subjunctive) for this purpose.

  31. Leo said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

    Perhaps they're counting on reaching a large number of non-native speakers of English.
    GKP and the rest of us can see through the ruse so easily that it's beyond comedy – but think of all those people with only a rudimentary, or vocation-specific, grasp of English, who are prepared for the occasional transaction in the language but have no real intuition for what makes good or bad English prose.

  32. Kapitano said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

    The imperative "Note" seems acceptable and not rude to me, though for some reason the old-fashioned "N.B" (for the latin Note Bene) seems 'friendlier'.

    But 'Understand' is quite rude and officious, and 'Comprehend' even more so. I'm waiting for a piece of spam to embrace Thesaurus Havoc a little more and use "Engulf", as an archaic synonym of 'Comprehend'.

    "Cry Havoc! And permit slide the mutts of conflict." – Not Shakespeare

  33. Morten Jonsson said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

    I know an example where "understand" in the imperative is a demand, not just a suggestion. Johnny Cash's "Understand Your Man." More than a demand, it's actually a threat–"Understand your man, or else."

  34. Chandra said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

    I've seen "understand" used as an imperative in lists of instructions at the beginning of course syllabi, as in:

    -Learn how to calculate perimeter and area

    -Understand the difference between volume and mass

    -Memorize the formulas for converting metric and Imperial units

    To me, "understand" here can be read as "make an effort to figure out", whereas "comprehend" is more like "have a deep and intuitive grasp of". Which can hardly be expected of your average math student. Myself included.

    There are other cases where we command people to perform relatively involuntary tasks: "Remember to call your mother," "Forget that I said that," "Sleep well," "Get better soon," etc. (It can be rather irritating, really – for example, the bus driver who chastised me by saying "Next time, don't forget that there's another stop before the one you want." Well, sure, but it's not like I forget things ON PURPOSE. [/rant])

  35. Will said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

    Also, headers are easy to spoof, and often are, in the interest of getting past spam filters. So there's a good chance the message wasn't sent via a Sun Messaging server.

  36. Morten Jonsson said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

    @Chandra

    I don't know if a list like that should necessarily be understood as being in the imperative. Often there's a stated or implied "The student will" preceding it:

    "- [The student will] Learn how to calculate perimeter and area

    - [The student will] Understand the difference between volume and mass

    etc."

  37. Thomas Thurman said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    I used to work at an email services company, and I thought I had a reasonable grasp on RFC 2822 and its spawn, but finding X-Accept-Language in the headers of an email (rather than an HTTP request) surprised me anyway. What's it supposed to mean to the receiving agent— "if you should happen to reply, reply in Spanish?" I wonder whether any mail user agent actually does anything useful with this information.

  38. Stephen R. Anderson said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

    Please Raymond Cheng

    Oh goodie – can we have a contest for the most blatant phishing email? My entry, chosen from among roughly 30 candidates received in the past 24 hours, is the following:

    From: jessicaringrose@westnet.com.au
    Subject: UNITED NATIONS COMPENSATION
    Date: 15 December, 2010 12:27:13 PM EST
    To: undisclosed-recipients:;
    Reply-To: raymondcheng@mail.bg

    A sum of £2.5 Million British Pound has been awarded by the United Nations to compensate fraud victims. Your name and email was found among the compensated list.

    Please Raymond Cheng head of RaiffeisenBank Bulgaria, REMITTANCE DEPARTMENT. Provide him with your Full Name, Address and Phone number.
    Email: raymondcheng@mail.bg
    We are hoping to hear from you as soon as you cash your Fund.

    Regards,
    Mr. Ban Ki-Moon
    UN Secretary General

  39. MattF said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 2:24 pm

    Here's a link to an archived copy of a classic 419 scam email:

    http://www.nairaland.com/nigeria/topic-503874.0.html

    I love the last line, "As soon as this is done, it will take only 24hours for the fund to be credited in your designated Bank account, you will be contacted by your
    Bank herself."

  40. The Ridger said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

    We aren't allowed to use "understand" as a verb in an objective. It's not quantifiable. You can't say "understand to 85%"…

  41. Chandra said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

    @Morten Jonsson: I know I've seen it framed as an imperative in course syllabi, though I can't remember the exact wording. At any rate, I thought of another one: "Please read and understand this manual before using {item}". You can Google it; there are plenty of examples.

  42. Rosie Redfield said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    I had one plausible version of this scam. It was well-written and purported to come from the office of a British solicitor who, when I Googled him, turned out to be genuine. The £200,000 inheritance being offered was unfortunately not.

  43. tudza said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

    I occasionally offer my services as editor for these sorts of emails. I never get a response, maybe because I'm asking for money?

  44. Jens Fiederer said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

    Since this spam is entirely useless if the reply does not go to the true sender (or accomplice thereof), then china address is at least a first step to the truth. The actual sender, of course, can pick up the mail from any country.

    My favorite "Nigerian" story is the one at http://www.quatloos.com/brad-c/musa.htm

    Unfortunately, the picture the prankster sent to the conman is no longer visible – it was a picture of President Nixon.

  45. GeorgeW said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

    This kind of scheme reminds me of a clever radio ad for printers I heard years ago. It went something like this:
    S1: I invented a printer with a nine-foot carriage.
    S2: How much are you selling it for?
    S1: 10 million dollars.
    S2: What! Are you kidding, how many people would pay $10 million
    dollars for a nine-foot carriage printer?
    S1: I only need one

  46. Mo said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

    Any other good examples of verbs that are commonly used as imperatives in other languages but not in English. The only one I can think of of the top of my head is "to hear".

  47. Joshua said,

    December 15, 2010 @ 10:30 pm

    Henning: The overt errors are most likely deliberate. The scam works best if you can get the mark to believe he can outsmart the scammer. So it's in the scammer's interest to seem as stupid and incompetent as possible.

    I don't understand how that would work. The sender is ostensibly trying to convince the recipient that he, the sender, is planning a transaction worth millions. If the sender were telling the truth, there would be no need for the recipient to want to outsmart the sender, since the sender is ostensibly offering the recipient a fortune anyway. If the recipient believed that the sender was stupid and incompetent, the recipient might conclude instead that the sender might be too stupid and incompetent to conclude the proposed business deal, which would mean that the recipient would get nothing.

  48. Michael Johnson said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 2:55 am

    @GeorgeW

    I remember a similar joke from a Mathnet movie (it was a kids' show parody of Dragnet):

    Kid: Please sir, would you like to buy a pencil for charity?
    George Frankly: Sure, kid, I'll buy a pencil. How much?
    Kid: One million dollars.
    GF: A million dollars? For a pencil???
    Kid: If I could just sell one…

    (I'm pretty sure it was "The Case of the Swami Scam")

  49. pj said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 4:38 am

    I take the inept 'comprehend' to be aiming for the etymologically literal meaning 'grasp, seize' – Seize upon this proposal! Don't miss the opportunity!

    I don't get many of these, but I did have three near-identical scam emails in quick succession a couple of weeks ago, from different 'people' and specifying different sums of money (as an unclaimed fortune in the same Benin bank left by the same German air crash victim in each case). They closed with the rather charming – not to mention impressively overnegation-free – reassurance:
    "I will not fail to bring to your notice that this transaction is hitch-free and you should not entertain any atom of fear as all required arrangements have been made for the transfer."

    I can't beat Stephen R. Anderson's personal message from Ban Ki-moon, though.

  50. Joe 1959 said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 4:54 am

    Damn! To think I was labouring under the illusion that I was the only one to get a personal eMail from Ban Ki-moon…

  51. Frans said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 7:19 am

    Any other good examples of verbs that are commonly used as imperatives in other languages but not in English. The only one I can think of of the top of my head is "to hear".

    Then what's "hear, hear"? :P

    Hearing is involuntary perception while listening is paying close attention to a particular part of said involuntary perception. The only language I can think of where hear can be used as an imperative is German, but then I only speak Dutch, English, German, and some high school French. Perhaps it's because my native language is Dutch, but I've perceived hoeren (to hear) and hoeren (to listen) as different, yet strongly related. It's just that the difference, for the most part, hides in the context.

  52. Morten Jonsson said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 9:58 am

    "Hear" can be imperative if you make it reflexive, as in "Hear me out."

  53. Marion Crane said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 10:18 am

    Er, Frans, I think you meant 'horen' instead of 'hoeren'. *coughs* Also, I've always used 'luisteren' for 'to listen', and personally I wouldn't use 'horen' in the imperative ('hoor!'), but I would use 'luisteren' as such ('luister!').

    And back on the topic of scam mails, some time ago I received a message that from the contents was definitely a 419 scam, but it was (wait for it) actually well-written. It was a very polite, eloquent e-mail, and frankly it gave me the willies, more so than those badly-written mails. I myself was almost tempted to trust this guy, based on the tone of his writing; how many other people must have fallen for it?

  54. Frans said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 11:12 am

    Er, Frans, I think you meant 'horen' instead of 'hoeren'. *coughs*

    I most certainly did not. I did, however, mean to say that "I've [always] perceived…"

    I consider the whole situation analogous to how most verbs can mean various things, such as "X makes Y" where make could be a literal making (e.g. welding) or something more along the lines of adding up. That may not be the best analogy, but it's the first that came to mind.

    Also, I've always used 'luisteren' for 'to listen', and personally I wouldn't use 'horen' in the imperative ('hoor!'), but I would use 'luisteren' as such ('luister!').

    My point exactly. Dutch horen and luisteren are almost exactly the same as English to hear and to listen.

  55. Mo said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    Hearing is involuntary perception while listening is paying close attention to a particular part of said involuntary perception. The only language I can think of where hear can be used as an imperative is German…

    The imperative שמע shma 'hear' occurs in both Biblical and Modern (see p. 23 at the bottom) Hebrew.

  56. Alex said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

    The original language could have been Spanish, I suppose. In Spanish, people frequently use "entender" as an imperative. It's often glossed as "to understand," but I think when it's used as a command it's more like "to mind," "to listen," or even "to obey." eg "!Entiendeme,hijo! Deja tu hermana en paz." I'm not sure you could use it in reference to a proposal as in the subject line.

    Spanish speakers might use the cognate "comprehend" (comprender) rather than the more common "understand," as several other commenters have noted, but I'm far from certain "comprender" can be used as a command. Any native speaker intuition on that?

  57. Ellen K. said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    Frans, that page you link to is German, not Dutch. Do you mean German (Deutsch) rather than Dutch??

  58. Peter said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

    @Ellen K.: I think Frans’ original post mentioning hoeren twice was meant to contrast its German and Dutch meanings.

  59. Xmun said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

    @Mo:
    The imperative "hear" is found in biblical, liturgical, and spiritual use, e.g.
    Hear, O Israel (Deuteronomy 6:4)
    Lord, hear our prayers (BCP: Order of Confirmation)
    and
    Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
    Now hear the word of the Lord.
    I very much expect it to be also found elsewhere, if I only knew where to look.

  60. Xmun said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

    And of course there are also the poets:
    Hear, ye ladies that despise (Fletcher)
    Hear the voice of the Bard (Blake)

  61. J.Jov. said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

    When it comes to the biblical use of the word hear, I think it makes a lot more sense. Underwriting much of the message of the bible is that 'hearing' the Lord is a choice that one must make, and that a person can choose not to hear. Jn. 8:47, "The reason that you do not hear is that you do not believe," implying that by choosing to believe you choose to hear, and 2 Tim. 4:4 "They will turn their ears away from the truth," so that the biblical understanding of hearing is active, not involuntary. It's a very different sense than, say, hearing the loud music next door even though you would rather block it out.

  62. Mo said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

    @J.Jov. What you are describing would be translated as 'listening' in English. I suspect that in Biblical Hebrew the boundary between the words לשמוע, להקשיב, and להאזין didn't have the same semantics as in Modern Hebrew (where they mean 'hear', 'listen', and 'listen' pretty much in the English way, afaik). Cf. Psalms 66:19 אכן שמע אלקים הקשיב בקול תפלתי "In truth God has heard; He has hearkened to the sound of my prayer". If this were not the case then the Hebrew Bible would use להקשיב or some other verb.

    In the case of Modern Hebrew, I think imperative שמע is probably just idiomatic, since in general שמע seems to be used in the same way as its English counterpart. Additionally I believe that תקשיב is more commonly used to convey 'listen' in the imperative.

  63. Mo said,

    December 16, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    @J.Jov My question regarding the Christian examples would be what the wording was in the original Greek.

  64. Azimuth said,

    December 17, 2010 @ 1:05 am

    To return to thesaurus havoc, I would synonymize the scary result as Abuthesaurus text.

  65. maidhc said,

    December 17, 2010 @ 3:39 am

    Didn't the Emperor Dalek say "Hear and obey!"?

    We received a batch of Nigerian letters at work on paper through the post back about 15 years ago, but it was so badly written that none of us could figure out what it was trying to say. Not to mention it would be a little strange for a number of people in the same office to be offered huge sums of money all at the same time.

    Back in the 1930s my grandfather received a letter from a solicitor offering him a baronetcy and a castle in Ireland. This may have been sort of legit, if the estate was so encumbered with debt and the castle in such dilapidated condition that all of the closer heirs refused to accept it, or it may have been an early example of this type of scam.

  66. Frans said,

    December 17, 2010 @ 8:12 am

    @Peter, Ellen K.:

    @Ellen K.: I think Frans’ original post mentioning hoeren twice was meant to contrast its German and Dutch meanings.

    I meant to contrast German to English; the information about my native language was only to inform people that my perspective on German might be skewed, but I'm afraid I only confused people with it. The worst part is that I was rather

    Then what's "hear, hear"? :P

    English does have hear in the imperative, albeit in only a few select contexts. Another one that's been mentioned is "hear me out" and I can think of similar constructions like "hear me roar," though that's not exactly the same thing. Still, the form is an imperative and it would keep more or less the same meaning if replaced by "listen to me."

    However, I just realized that German is very similar to Dutch and English because there are indeed simple, direct translations of to listen: anhoeren and zuhoeren. Still, you can say hoer mich ("hear me" = listen to me) and you don't have to say something like hoere mich an/zu ("hear to me" = listen to me). I'm not quite sure what the difference is; perhaps there is none. I apologize for the misleading information in my earlier posts.

  67. Frans said,

    December 17, 2010 @ 8:15 am

    I seem to have accidentally cut out a part of my reply there. Let's just say that I was rather mistaken.

  68. Bloix said,

    December 17, 2010 @ 10:32 am

    J.Jov – "hear" as a "Biblical" usage is simply a matter of translation into 17th century usage. "Hear him" or "Hear me" were once common-place expressions (the cry "Hear him! Hear him!" was one of approbation, and has evolved into the modern, meaningless, "hear, hear!") There's no particular reason that "hear" as an imperative has fallen out of favor and that "listen!" is preferred nowadays.

  69. Rod Johnson said,

    December 17, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

    "Now hear this…"

  70. J.H. said,

    December 18, 2010 @ 6:22 am

    I remember one of my primary school friends constantly tapping me and saying, "Hear this!" when she wanted to tell me some kind of cool fact. I'm not sure where she picked it up, to be honest, but it always bugged the heck out of me, even when I was 6.

  71. adriano said,

    December 18, 2010 @ 8:11 am

    @Kapitano

    I think it's "nota bene", both in Latin and Italian.

  72. Chris M said,

    March 17, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

    An amendment to the post says that a plausible source of the email is Colombia, which happens to be in UTC-5. Unless I'm missing something critical, it would seem to me that Colombia is three hours ahead of the stated time.

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment