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Short Cut to the Spam Folder

December 30, 2010

Pressed for time? Typing with your thumbs? Abbreviations, from leetspeak strings to corporate acronyms shorten text and save time, at least for the writer. But beyond confusing readers, a misplaced abbreviation may trigger something unexpected, like a spam filter.

Back in 2006, users of the spam filter Spam Assassin from the English county of Oxfordshire began noticing a lot of disappearing e-mails. Nothing in the body of the messages contained any suspect strings, phrases like “Nigerian bank,” “unclaimed inheritance” or “male enhancement.” They came from different users on different servers and contained no other filter-trigging attributes.

Except for one thing. The common denominator was a benign abbreviation in the users’ e-mail signatures. The accepted abbreviation for Oxfordshire is Oxon (a shortening of the old Latin name for the region). Oxon, when followed by its postal code (OX), was a close enough match for the anxiety drug Xanax to trigger a false positive and send messages straight to the trash. So, unless you live in this town, you might think twice about shortening your address.

Posted by Sherman Dickman