Spelling Variations

Why Your Spam Filters Aren't Working

Stolen from the Web, April 18, 2004

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When electronic mail was first developed, it was devised for one purpose, and one purpose only: To peddle pills of Viagra.

Because internet marketers love teaching others about medicine and the alphabet, the word "Viagra" is always spelled in hot, new, creative ways. For example, it might have a lower case "L" in the space where a capital "I" would go, or perhaps an "@" symbol where the letter "a" should be.

After I received 80,730 different emails trying to sell viagra, I started to wonder: How many different ways are there to spell Viagra?

I began my quest by simply collecting the Viagra spellings that showed up in my email. In 12 days, I had 79.

Two techniques were used:

  1. One letter substitutions
  2. Extra characters included inside the word

One letter substitutions

I know three different ways to portray the letter "V". Capital, small, and with two opposing slashes. If the name of Pfizer's product was simply "V", there would only be three ways to spell the name: V, v and \/.

If it was called "VI", the name could be spelled with any V and any of the 12 forms of the I. All kinds of stuff can substitute for an I, including a number one, a vertical bar and a colon. Multiply the variations of V (3) by the variations of I (12) to get total number of variations: (36).

VI, Vi, V1, Vl, V|, V, V, V:, V, V, V, V, vI, vi, v1, vl, v|, v, v, v:, v, v, v, v, \/I, \/i, \/1, \/l, \/|, \/, \/, \/:, \/, \/, \/, and \/.

There are also 17 ways to portray an "A", two ways to portray a G, three ways to show an R.

V, v, \/ I i 1 l | : A a @ /\ G g R r A a @ /\
3 variations 12 variations 17 variations 2 variations 3 variations 17 variations

Using this variety of characters, in different combinations, there are 62,424 (3 x 12 x 17 x 2 x 3 x 17) ways to portray the name Viagra.

Extra characters included inside the word

Here is where it gets crazy.

The word Viagra can be recognized even with a few extra characters interspersed among the letters of the word:

Some actual examples I've been emailed are in the orange table below:

Viagorea ViagDrHa V l a g r a  VyAGRA via---gra viagrga 
via-gra 'V 1 @ G' Ra Viagzra viagdra via_gra ViaZUgra
Viargvra ViagrYa Vii-agra ViagWra vi(@)gr@ Viagvra
V-I-A-G-R-A Vi-ag.ra vigra Vkiagra via.gra v-ii-a=g-ra
V l A G R A VIA7GRA V/i/a/g/r/a VIxAGRA  Viaggra vi@gr|@|
ViaTagra ViaVErga Viagr(a Viagr^a Vigr Viagara
Viag@ra Viag&ra vi@g*r@ V-i.a-g*r-a V1@grA ViaaPrga
Vi$agra ViaJ1gra Viag$ra via---gra Vi.ag.ra  Viaoygra
Vi/agra Viag%ra Viarga V|i|a|g|r|a Viag)ra vi@|g|r@
Viag&ra vi**agra vi@gr*@ vi-@gr@ V iagr a V&iagra

There are seven spaces between the letters, and if there are two options for each space (an asterix or no asterix) there are 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 different varieties (128). For example, with the asterix, Viagra could be spelled 127 different ways. 

With 1 asterisk: *viagra, v*iagra, vi*agra, via*gra, viag*ra, viagr*a, viagra*

With 2: *v*iagra, *vi*agra, *via*gra, *viag*ra, *viagr*a, *viagra*, v*i*agra, v*ia*gra, v*iag*ra, v*iagr*a, v*iagra*, vi*a*gra, vi*ag*ra, vi*agr*a, vi*agra*, via*g*ra, via*gr*a, via*gra*, viag*r*a, viag*ra*, viagr*a*

With 3: *v*i*agra, *v*ia*gra, *v*iag*ra, *v*iagr*a, *v*iagra*, v*i*a*gra, v*i*ag*ra, v*i*agr*a, v*i*agra*, vi*a*g*ra, vi*a*gr*a, vi*a*gra*, via*g*r*a, via*g*ra*, viag*r*a*, *vi*a*gra, *vi*ag*ra, *vi*agr*a, *vi*agra*, v*ia*g*ra, v*ia*gr*a, v*ia*gra*, vi*ag*r*a, vi*ag*ra*, via*gr*a*, *via*g*ra, *via*gr*a, *via*gra*, v*iag*r*a, v*iag*ra*, vi*agr*a*, *viag*r*a, *viag*ra*, v*iagr*a*, *viagr*a*

With 4: *v*i*a*gra, *v*i*ag*ra, *v*i*agr*a, *v*i*agra*, *v*ia*g*ra, *v*ia*gr*a, *v*ia*gra*, *v*iag*r*a, *v*iag*ra*, *v*iagr*a*, *vi*a*g*ra, *vi*a*gr*a, *vi*a*gra*, *vi*ag*r*a, *vi*ag*ra*, *vi*agr*a*, *via*g*r*a, *via*g*ra*, *via*gr*a*, *viag*r*a*, v*i*a*g*ra, v*i*a*gr*a, v*i*a*gra*, v*i*ag*r*a, v*i*ag*ra*, v*i*agr*a*, v*ia*g*r*a, v*ia*g*ra*, v*ia*gr*a*, v*iag*r*a*, vi*a*g*r*a, vi*a*g*ra*, vi*a*gr*a*, via*g*r*a*

With 5: *v*i*a*g*ra, *v*i*a*gr*a, *v*i*a*gra*, *v*i*ag*r*a, *v*i*ag*ra*, *v*i*agr*a*, *v*ia*g*r*a, *v*ia*g*ra*, *v*ia*gr*a*, *v*iag*r*a*, *vi*a*g*r*a, *vi*a*g*ra*, *vi*a*gr*a*, *vi*ag*r*a*, *via*g*r*a*, v*i*a*g*r*a, v*i*a*g*ra*, v*i*a*gr*a*, v*i*ag*r*a*, v*ia*g*r*a*, vi*a*g*r*a*

With 6: *v*i*a*g*r*a, *v*i*a*g*ra*, *v*i*a*gr*a*, *v*i*ag*r*a*, *v*ia*g*r*a*, *vi*a*g*r*a*, v*i*a*g*r*a*

With 7: *v*i*a*g*r*a*

The irregular characters are least obtrusive when they aren't proper letters of the alphabet. Well utilized are the hyphen, the vertical bar, the space band, the comma, the slashes, and the asterix (- | , / \ * ). However, many other characters are used, and any of these 192 could be used.

! " # $ % & ' ( ) * + , - . / 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 : ; < = > ? @ A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z [ \ ] ^ _ ` a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z { | } ~

If any of these 192 characters can be used, in any combination, between the letters V I A G R and A, there are an astronomical number of combinations. Not every combination leaves "viagra" as a discernable, legible word. Putting a character in front of the V isn't recommended.

The varieties of extra characters in between the letters is equal to 192 x 192 x 192 x 192 x 192 x 192 x 192, or 9,618,527,719,784,448.

Combined with the One Letter Substitution technique, there are even more variations. The math is easy if you have a calculator. Just multiply the number of variations for each letter position:

(192 x 3 x 192 x 12 x 192 x 17 x 192 x 2 x 192 x 3 x 192 x 17 x 192) = 600,426,974,379,824,381,952

Six hundred quintillion variations! I'd like to see Cialis try to beat that!


There are some characters that were left out of the One Letter Substitution technique:

Greg Knauss wrote and showed me how the G can be portrayed with a 6, Ryan Hill alerted me to the I-ness of an exclamation mark. SR pointed out that a 9 occasionally stands in for a g.

These three additions change the first equation to (3*13*17*4*3*17) variations, and boost the second equation to ( 192 x 3 x 192 x 13 x 192 x 17 x 192 x 4 x 192 x 3 x 192 x 17 x 192) = 1,300,925,111,156,286,160,896.

Thanks Greg, Ryan and SR, you helped push the total into the SEXTILLIONS!

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