Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Preliminary Taxonomy of Chain Letters

Note: This is another of the articles that used to reside on my old web page. I have actually still been working on the concepts in this one, and am in the process of significantly restructuring the higher levels of this taxonomy. In particular, I think there should be two levels added to our traditional Linnean model: World and Medium. Chain letters thus belong to World Terra, Medium Mnemia, Domain Homoites, Kingdom Semantic, Phylum Lingates. But more on that later: this is the original draft, before the explosion of chain letters as image macros on Facebook and elsewhere. Much revision needs to be done, preferably with someone who can correct my amateurish pseudo-Latin/Greek derivations. Also please note that this taxonomy is based entirely on structural similarities, not cladistics. 

Kingdom Mnemia (Memetic organisms)
Phylum Lingates (Transmitted by human speech/language)
Class Graphiformes (Normally found in written form)
Order Alysographia (Chain letters)
Family Pyramides
This family is named for the pyramid scheme structure common to all members of the family. Each specimen in this family will include a list of addresses of its last 4 to 10 hosts, and instructs the current host to alter this list by adding his or her address to this list and removing the oldest address from it. Hosts are also directed to send a small sum of money to each name on the list.
Genus Pyramidia

This is the oldest genus in the family, including the progenitor species of the entire family. Pyramidia simply instruct their hosts to send money to previous hosts, without further adaptations. The most well-known species is P. rhodii.Genus Nominalegus

Known from a single species, N. nominalegus, this genus has evolved an adaptation to circumvent a common resistance in many hosts, the idea that pyramid schemes are illegal. Nominalegus instructs hosts to include a slip of paper with the money they send to previous hosts, one which is to be written "Please add me to your mailing list." This is claimed to be a service in exchange for the money sent, allegedly making the entire transaction legal.

Genus Tetralogia
These are highly complex chain letters, with very elaborate instructions for the host. Like NominalegusTetralogia attempts to circumvent the hostís concerns of illegality by require the host to purchase a "business report" from each of the last few previous hosts, which are in turn to be sold to subsequent hosts. The most common species is T. vulgaris, which has been observed in several subspecies (T. vulgaris ericksoni, T. vulgaris liddelli, etc.) A separate species, T. pentalogus, with five unique reports has been observed but is thought to be extinct.

Family Petitiones

Members of this family are characterized by the additional behaviours induced in the infected host apart from simply replicating them. In general they call for a message to be sent to a fixed address, though some may call for postcards, letters or phone calls.
Genus Petitia
Like Pyramideans, Petitioneansí code is modified with each infected host, albeit in a much simpler fashion. Each host is instructed simply to add his or her name to the list before passing it on. Typically, every 50th host is requested to forward a copy to a particular email address to be compiled. A representative species of this genus is P. talibani.Genus Amphoralogia
Closely related to Petitia, these are the "message in a bottle" chain letters, which instruct the recipient to send a message to a particular address in addition to forwarding the chain letter to numerous subsequent hosts. A. shergoldi is the most well-established species.
subgenus Ostraconus
These are usually maliciously created with the goal of overwhelming the email account of a victim with unexpected responses from infected hosts. O. joescomi is an example.
Family Superstitiones

The oldest group of chain letters, Superstitiones rely on a the power of a bribe or a threat (often both) to induce their hosts to replicate them. Unlike Pyramides, there is no actual mechanism to deliver the threat or reward. The oldest members of the family are those claiming that bad luck will befall those who fail to pass them along.
Genus Fortunas
The oldest known chain letters belong to this genus, and there are many species still circulating today. Essentially they promise the host good luck in exchange for replication, and threaten bad luck if the chain is broken. F. venezueli is probably the most well-known species.Genus Polygrades
These chain letters tend to make specific claims about what will befall the host for a given level of replication. For example, one might claim that failing to forward the message at all will result in certain death, forwarding it to between 1 and 10 recipients will result in a mere maiming, 11-20 forwards will have no effect, 21-30 will bring some good luck, and more than 30 will win the lottery for the forwarder.subfamily Theseidae
The theseids are a very large group characterized by the claim of an embedded "email tracking program" as a mechanism supporting the reward system. (It is quite rare for theseids to rely on threats, although at least one threatening species has been sighted).Genus Pseudopremium
These theseids promise the host a direct reward for replication, which typically will be sent once the total number of hosts reaches a threshold. A typical species is P. disneyi, which offers free trips to Disneyworld for the first 5000 hosts. Similar species include P. milleriP. guinnessiP. nike, P. honda, and many others. Especially noteworthy is P. gatesi and its several subspecies, each distinguished only by a different reward offered.Genus Samaritans
Samaritans differ from Pseudopremiums in that the host does not expect to receive the reward personally. A typical Samaritans will claim that an anonymous benefactor will donate a few cents to some poor childís medical care for every new host. Identified species to date include S. mydek, S. jada, S. cohen, S. relek, S. bruce, S. hendrix, S. martin, S. bucklew, S. beerman, S. flyte, S. lawitts, S. connor, S. hafeez, S. doe and others.
Family Notifera

This very large and diverse family relies on the perceived utility of its content for replication. There are two main subfamilies.
subfamily Transmissus
Hosts are explicitly instructed to forward copies of the message to others. The following are only a small sample of the many genera extant.
Genus Cautionus
Warns the host of some real or imagined danger. C. anaphotus, C. toxotelephonus, and C. achillitomia all warn of various violent gang initiation rituals; C. euchronus and others warn of email viruses, and so forth.Genus Inspirates
These consist of some inspirational message, followed by the instruction to share it with a friend.
subfamily Spontanes
Spontanes are unique in that they do not explicitly instruct the host to replicate them, relying instead on the intrinsic entertainment value of their content to provoke spontaneous replication.
Genus Eythymia
These are jokes and increasingly attachments of amusing images, sounds or other files which are usually forwarded on to new hosts without alteration.Genus Trivialus
Lists of trivia and "fun facts". Like the Urban Legends (class Oriformes, family Politimythos), they depend heavily on the claim that they are true. For example,T. quaylei would probably not be so widespread if it purported to be simply a list of dumb things for a politician to say, rather than a list of things Dan Quayle really did say.Genus Exoreferens
Members of this highly optimized genus usually contains little more than a URL directing the host to an amusing or interesting document. Occasionally a remark such as "Check this out!" is included.

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