IJMC The Pluperfect Virus

                   IJMC - The Pluperfect Virus

I think I own three different grammatical textbooks. Yet I am having 
trouble writing in a grammatically correct fashion without consulting my 
books. I simply do not know what is "proper" and what is not. A virus 
such as the one described below could actually help me. Or, some kind 
subscribing soul to lead me to correct grammar much as another once did 
for my spelling. Alas, perhaps it is more of my blurbical nature to 
simply write as I think, and not as an eighth grade English teacher would 
see fit. On the other hand, I have known some cute English teachers...of 
course, I have never had one, but that is ok, Ms. Mecom was a good 
teacher...once I started staying awake through her classes...       -dave

A new computer virus is spreading throughout the Internet, and it is far
more insidious than last week's Chernobyl menace. Named Strunkenwhite
after the authors of a classic guide to good writing, it returns e-mail
messages that have grammatical or spelling errors. It is deadly accurate
in its detection abilities, unlike the dubious spell checkers That come
with word processing programs. 

The virus is causing something akin to panic throughout corporate America,
which has become used to the typos, misspellings, missing words and
mangled syntax so acceptable in cyberspace. The CEO of LoseItAll.com, an
Internet startup, said the virus has rendered him helpless. "Each time I
tried to send one particular e-mail this morning, I got back this error
message: 'Your dependent clause preceding your independent clause must be
set off by commas, but one must not precede the conjunction.' I threw my
laptop across the room." 

A top executive at a telecommunications and long-distance company,
10-10-10-10-10-10-123, said: "This morning, the same damned e-mail kept
coming back to me with a pesky notation claiming I needed to use a
pronoun's possessive case before a gerund. With the number of e-mails I
crank out each day, who has time for proper grammar? Whoever created this
virus should have their programming fingers broken." 

A broker at Begg, Barow and Steel said he couldn't return to the "bad,
old" days when he had to send paper memos in proper English. He speculated
that the hacker who created Strunkenwhite was a "disgruntled English major
who couldn't make it on a trading floor. When you're buying and selling on
margin, I don't think it's anybody's business if I write that 'i meetinged
through the morning, then cinched the deal on the cel phone while bareling
down the xway.' " 

If Strunkenwhite makes e-mailing impossible, it could mean the end to a
communication revolution once hailed as a significant timesaver. A study
of 1,254 office workers in Leonia, N.J., found that e-mail increased
employees' productivity by 1.8 hours a day because they took less time to
formulate their thoughts. (The same study also found that they lost 2.2
hours of productivity because they were e-mailing so many jokes to their
spouses, parents and stockbrokers.)

Strunkenwhite is particularly difficult to detect because it doesn't come
as an e-mail attachment (which requires the recipient to open it before it
becomes active). Instead, it is disguised within the text of an e-mail
entitled "Congratulations on your pay raise." The message asks the
recipient to "click here to find out about how your raise effects your
pension."  The use of "effects" rather than the grammatically correct
"affects" appears to be an inside joke from Strunkenwhite's mischievous

The virus also has left government e-mail systems in disarray. Officials
at the Office of Management and Budget can no longer transmit electronic
versions of federal regulations because their highly technical language
seems to run afoul of Strunkenwhite's dictum that "vigorous writing is
concise." The White House speechwriting office reported that it had
received the same message, along with a caution to avoid phrases such as
"the truth is. . ." and "in fact. . . ." 

Home computer users also are reporting snafus, although an e-mailer who
used the word "snafu" said she had come to regret it. 

The virus can have an even more devastating impact if it infects an entire
network. A cable news operation was forced to shut down its computer
system for several hours when it discovered that Strunkenwhite had somehow
infiltrated its TelePrompTer software, delaying newscasts and leaving news
anchors nearly tongue-tied as they wrestled with proper sentence

There is concern among law enforcement officials that Strunkenwhite is a
harbinger of the increasingly sophisticated methods hackers are using to
exploit the vulnerability of business's reliance on computers. "This is
one of the most complex and invasive examples of computer code we have
ever encountered. We just can't imagine what kind of devious mind would
want to tamper with e-mails to create this burden on communications," said
an FBI agent who insisted on speaking via the telephone out of concern
that trying to e-mail his comments could leave him tied up for hours. 

Meanwhile, bookstores and online booksellers reported a surge in orders
for Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style." 

                          -=-Bob Hirschfeld-=-

IJMC September 1999 Archives