## Forgive my indignation

There's still no sign of the logically-imminent spamularity. On the contrary, the same tired old spam formulations seem to be endlessly recycled. One that recently slipped past gmail's spam filters into my inbox began

Greetings from Iraq.
Forgive my indignation if this message comes to you as a surprise.
I am SGT. LAURA MCMILLAN, i am presently in Iraq and i have something very important to discouse with you.Please contact me via my private box: XXXXXXX@aol.com

The email header named the sender as Zuzana so-and-so, allegedly sent from the vfn.cz domain, which is Všeobecná fakultní nemocnice v Praze (= "General Teaching Hospital of Prague").

"Forgive my indignation if this message comes to you as a surprise" has been a staple of 419 email scams for years.  It's surprising that the spammers are so uninventive, and even more surprising that this message didn't trigger a spam filter.

Update — Mark Anderson in the comments observes that "presumably 'indignation' was originally a mistake for some other word in a well-known (but not to me) phrase"; and Jason asks "what native speaker or even minimally conscious paramecium would think this really was from SGT LAURA MCMILLAN with a red-hot business opportunity?".

At least from the word-usage perspective, Jason should consider what we can learn from the SAT and similar tests: many literate native speakers find it surprisingly difficult to evaluate fancy words in context. Consider the SAT "Question of the Day" for 8/18/2011, which 58,844 of 143,522 people got wrong:

Or the practice question for 8/15/2011:

And according to the COCA corpus, poignant (at about 3.9 per million) is slightly more common than indignation (at about 2.4 per million).

1. ### Janice Byer said,

August 18, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

My fear is such letters might've scammed so many that spammers credit the wording.

15. ### Eric P Smith said,

August 19, 2011 @ 9:29 am

Is it possible that the spammer did indeed mean to use the word ‘indignation’ but misunderstood on which party the concept fell? In other words, that he or she meant, “Forgive me if you feel indignant at receiving this message”?

As a child I learned the word ‘snob’ from a comic strip that showed snobbery being shown by one person towards another. I understood the concept straight away, apart from one rather important point: I thought that the word ‘snob’ applied not to the snooty party but to the victim of the snobbery.

16. ### Ran Ari-Gur said,

August 19, 2011 @ 10:16 am

@Eric P Smith: That seems very likely to me. As a child, I once had a similar confusion about "adopt" (I thought that adopted children had been "adopted" by their birth parents, and that "adopting" meant what I would now call "giving up for adoption"). Even aside from childish confusions, there are plenty of words that are genuinely ambiguous in this way; people who are vegetarian eat food that is vegetarian. "Macbeth's murders" (subjective genitive) include "Duncan's murder" (objective genitive). (I hope that's not too much of a spoiler.) Emotions in English don't seem to have this ambiguity — I don't think "my anger" ever means "the anger I provoked in someone else" — but I definitely see how a non-native speaker could make the mistake.

17. ### a George said,

August 19, 2011 @ 10:17 am

– you mean the victim was snubbed?

18. ### Eric P Smith said,

August 19, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

@a George: Yes, quite possibly!