This is a list of terms and their special definitions as used in Chain Letter Evolution and other WWW documents on paper chain letters written by Daniel W. VanArsdale. The links named "CLEVO" after entries below are to appropriate text in Chain Letter Evolution.
Here are files in the /chain-letter/ directory that may be of interest to you, all pertaining to paper chain letters.
evolution.html Chain Letter Evolution - analysis and history of paper chain lettersThe following terms are used and presumed known in many of the definitions: Category, Chain letter, Compliance, Copy, Copy quota, Deadline, Descent group (clade), Founder, Luck chain letter, Mainline, Outlier, Propagation, Testimonial, Type .
bibliography.htm Annotated Bibliography on chain letters and pyramid schemes
glossary.htm Definitions of terms used for paper chain letters - this file
/archive/!content Annotated index for the The Paper Chain Letter Archive - list of filenames
/archive/!information.htm Information on formats and file naming conventions for the archive
/archive/!search.htm Search through the archive of chain letters. Provided by FreeFind.
/e-archive/!content Annotated index for email chains used in Chain Letter Evolution - list of filenames
//photo-archive/!content Annotated index for photos and their descriptions - list of filenames
Ancestor. An ancestor
of a replicator L is a parent of L, or
a parent of a parent, or a parent of a parent of a parent, etc.
Ancestry. For a replicator L in a clade C, the ancestry of L in C is L and all its ancestors in C. Note that for convenience we include L itself in its "ancestry".
Ancient Prayer. A mainline type of luck chain letter characterized by (1) copy quota nine and deadline nine days, (2) a brief prayer, often said to be from Jesus' time and (3) a promise of "great joy" within nine or ten days if the recipient complies. Circulated internationally on letters and postcards from around 1905 to 1917, with a few late survivors. CLEVO
Archiving instructions. For some ancient documents, text or associated traditions which if followed may result in the long term preservation of the document. For example, instructions to place a document in scented wrappings, or the tradition of placing a document in tombs.
Belief title. For chain
letters, the King James version of Matthew 21:22 (and corruptions):
"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing,
ye shall receive." Appeared as a title (substituted for Proverbs) around 1981 on Death-Lottery
letters. Example: 1980.
Blind13. An outlier luck chain letter type known only from a 1938 newspaper clipping and two postcards mailed in 1941 and 1942. It had copy quota, deadline and waiting period all thirteen, and the 1938 version was titled "A letter to St. Anthony." The later two examples threatened blindness in the family for making fun of the letter and had dropped mention of St. Anthony. CLEVOBloomsbury letter. The standard example for the Death20 type luck chain letter. The earliest known quota twenty luck chain letter, mailed from Bloomsbury, New Jersey on Oct. 13, 1959.
Brill letter. A comical rewrite of a Death-Lottery letter that (1) claimed to have originated in the Brill Building, (2) asked that 30 copies be distributed and (3) originally contained long lists of celebrity names. Circulated from around 1979 - 1980. Example: 1979. CLEVO
Capture. Replacement of all the other chain letters in a niche by the descendants of a single variation. The successful variation is then called hyper-competitive. See funneling event. CLEVO
Car testimonial. The Lose-Win testimonial: "In 1987, the letter received by a young woman in California was very faded and barely readable. She promised herself she would type the letter, and send it on, but she put it aside to do it later. She was plagued with various problems including expensive car repairs. The letter did not leave her hands within 96 hours. She finally typed the letter as promised and got a new car" [U.S., 1990]. First appeared on Love titled Death-Lottery letters around 1988. CLEVO
Category. Chain letters grouped by the principal motivation for replication. The broadest classification of chain letters. Paper chain letter categories (in historical order) are: charity, luck, religion, advocacy, money, parody, exchange and world record.
Chain email. Any frequently forwarded email. A chain email may reference a WWW page, or derive from one.
Chain letter. A letter that explicitly directs the recipient to distribute copies of itself. Some modification of the letter may be requested before making copies, such as the updating of a list of senders. Depending on context, "chain letter" may refer to to the exact content of the letter (or to a clone group) rather than to a single physical letter.
Chain of Good Luck. An outlier luck chain letter type known from two 1949 foreign examples in English [Burma, Japan] and a 1949 newspaper mention. Said to have been started by a French officer. Copy quota 12, deadline 72 hours. Both collected examples have a Roosevelt testimonial. CLEVO
Charity chain letter. A category of chain letters that appeal to the recipient's humanitarian sympathies or support for some cause, and request that money or some item [stamps] be sent to a fixed address. Stated causes may be charitable [US, 1888], memorial [US, 1905], patriotic [US, 1918] or partisan political [US, 1950]. CLEVO
Circulation. For a chain letter variation V at time t, the number of V received after time t whose parent letter was received prior to t. The number of letters in transit from one recipient to another. CLEVO
Circumnavigation statement. A request on a chain letter that it is to go all over the world, or that it is to go around the world. Or a statement that the letter has already gone around the world some number of times. CLEVO
Clade. A group of replicators consisting of a founder and all its descendants. A monophyletic group. A descent group of chain letters.
Clone. A replicator C which is an identical copy of a previously existing replicator P. We then say C is a clone of P. Chain letters which bear an updated senders list are not clones. This includes all money and exchange letters as well as many luck chain letters prior to 1975. Chain letter clones are generally produced by photocopying, though they could be produced by the use of carbon paper and other obsolete methods of reproduction, and even by careful retyping.
Clone group. A non-clone founder plus all its clone descendants (if any exist). Clone groups form the natural units in considering the relationship of variations in a system of replicators in which clones predominate.
Co-linked features. Features G and H are co-linked if one is always present on a letter when the other is, barring a deletion. CLEVO
Compliance. Distribution of at least one copy (possibly the received copy) of a chain letter within one month of its receipt. Full compliance is distribution of the entire copy quota within a stated or implied deadline. CLEVO
Comply-Win testimonial. Any chain letter testimonial purporting that a prior recipient distributed the quota of copies and subsequently received good luck. Compare to a Win testimonial. CLEVO.
Component. Consecutive and meaningful text in a chain letter that may affect propagation. For example, a testimonial or instruction. Components may be variously identified: "Do not send money, for fate has no price" can be construed as a single component or two adjacent components. A chain letter component corresponds to a meme, as defined by Richard Dawkins in 1976.
Concurrent features. Features X and Y are concurrent if it is somehow known (or hypothesized) that they both first appeared on the same single letter L. This means X and Y appear together on all chain letters descended from L, barring deletions of one or the other. See co-linked features.
Copy. A fundamental concept in any evolutionary system. Chain letter C is a copy of letter P if P was used to produce almost all of the text of C, as by hand copying or photocopying. P is then a parent of C. New variations, errors, deletions or additions may appear on copy C. Copying should be accurate enough that if one had all the chain letters ever produced, one could determine the parent of almost every letter. Such an assemblage is copy dominated. In particular, characteristics that affect replication should be transmitted from parent to copy. Chain letter C is an identical copy (clone) of letter P if it is identical as a character string, including fonts and formatting (that is, it "looks the same").
Copy First. Applied to text in a luck chain letter that implies: (1) one must fully meet the quota and deadline first to receive good luck, (2) failure to distribute the letter by the deadline results in bad luck and (3) ambiguously, distribution of the quota after the deadline may bring good luck that outweighs the bad luck previously endured. Copy First text dominates the Lottery24 type chain letter. CLEVO
Copy Later. Applied to text in a luck chain letter that implies: (1) mere receipt of the chain letter brings good luck, (2) one who has received such good luck risks losing everything they have received, or much more, if they fail to circulate the letter and (3) ambiguously, merely passing on the received letter can avoid bad luck. Copy Later text dominates the Death20 type chain letter. CLEVO
Copy quota. The number of copies that a chain letter asks the recipient to distribute. This includes the original copy if the letter asks that it be distributed also. CLEVO
Core Network. Of a chain letter transmission network, the largest group of habitual senders such that each member has received a chain letter from another member. CLEVO
Corruption. A textual variation (as compared to what is present on some standard letter) that has resulted from the accumulation of one or more unintended copying errors.
Cousin. One chain letter is the cousin of another if they are both members of some clade under discussion, but are members of different major sub-clades. Usually the letters are understood to circulate at about the same time.
Craig Shergold Appeal.
An appeal for get well cards started by the parents of Craig
Shergold on Sept. 24, 1989. Craig, ten years old at the time,
was suffering from cancerous tumors in the brain and spine. The
goal was to set a Guinness record for collections of manufactured articles
(1,266,000 required). By March 1993, over 100,000,000 cards had been
received despite attempts to halt the appeal. Successful surgery on
Craig had been performed in 1991. Chain letters were a component of the
appeal. These first had a quota of five, then ten. Later a version appeared
that asked that business cards be sent instead of get well cards. (Guigne, 1993)
Currency chain. A message on a bill that encourages readers to copy it on other bills. See Olbrys. CLEVO
Dawkins, Richard. British biologist and author, introduced the concept of a "meme" in The Selfish Gene (Oxford Univ. Press, 1976). With Oliver Goodenough, interpreted a DL letter using viral analogies ("The St. Jude Mind Virus," Nature, Sept. 1, 1994).
Deadline. The stated number of days that a chain letter allows a recipient to complete distribution of copies; or, ambiguously, to pass on the received copy. If a deadline is not explicitly stated, the number of days after which bad luck allegedly befalls those who have not circulated the letter. Deadlines are often expressed in hours. Example: Do not keep this letter, it must leave your hands within 96 hours. CLEVO
Death and Money. The following testimonial, or a variant: "While in the Philippines, General Walsh lost his life six days after receiving his copy. He failed to circulate the prayer. However, before he died, he received $665,000 he had won." In our sample, this first appears on the Bloomsbury letter . CLEVO
Descendant. Letter L is a descendant of letter M if M is an ancestor of L.
Descent group. A clade.
Device. A proposed reason why some component of a chain letter motivates propagation of the letter. May be expressed as a strategy, for example "warn against discard," even though the author of the innovation may not have anticipated or intended its effect on replication.
Differential replication. The unequal rate of propagation of chain letters due to the effects on recipient behavior of varying content.
Discrete replicator. Any replicative entity which can be completely described by a finite string of characters.
DL (Death-Lottery). A chain letter type consisting of a Death20 block followed by a Lottery24 block. The blocks were combined around 1973 and, with the addition of the It Works postscript, went on to capture the luck chain letter niche in North America by 1980. CLEVO
Donor. In a transfer, the letter from which the transferred text is taken.
Downline (of person X). For multi-level marketing: all those participants whose sales result in a commission for X. These lie in the descent group of X (descent defined by recruitment). For money chain letters: all those letters with X's name and address on the senders list.
Elliot Wins and Loses. A traditional Win-Lose testimonial of the Death20, DL and LD mainline luck chain letters. From the Death20 standard: "Don Elliott received $60,000.00 but lost it because he broke the chain."  CLEVO
Exchange chain letter. A category of chain letters that appeal to the recipient's desire to acquire certain items of small value. They (1) ask that such an item (for example, a recipe, postcard or handkerchief) be sent to one or more prior senders, and (2) suggest that if copies of the letter are distributed the sender will in turn receive many such items. CLEVO
process. A communications process by which some solicitation
or opportunity for gain can conceivably increase exponentially
as a result of others replicating the distributor's behavior. Examples
include pyramid sales, money chain letters, pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing.
Exponential growth. Change in a population that is proportional to the size of the population. If y(t) designates the population at time t, this condition is dy/dt = ky, k a constant called the growth constant. The implies that y = y0 ekt where the constant y0 = y(0) is the population at time t = 0. CLEVO
Feature. Within a group of chain letters, a variation such that if any two letters in the group share this variation it can be deduced that either (1) they have a common ancestor that bore this variation, or (2) at least one of the appearances has resulted from a transfer. Features are variations that can be used to diagnose lineage. In cladistics, a character or character state.
Flanders. A region
of N. Belgium, SW Netherlands and N. France corresponding to
the medieval country of Flanders. Some chain letters allege that
the Good Luck type was started by an American
artillery officer on a Flanders battlefield during World War
I. Flanders is often given as the location of the remarkable "Christmas
Truce" of 1914, in which British and German troops spontaneously
left their trenches and fraternized. It was also said that an
angel had been seen over the trenches in Flanders (Allport, The
Psychology of Rumor, p. 165)
Follow-up letter. In direct mail campaigns, a letter designed to promote a previous solicitation. In "sweepstakes" promotions, the ultimate origin and intent of a follow-up letter may be dissembled. Follow-up luck chain letters may have once been designed and used to promote money chain letters. CLEVO
Founder. Of a set of replicators, their most recent common ancestor; or often, the clone group that contains their most recent common ancestor. The oldest letter of a descent group of chain letters. Of a feature, the first letter that bore this feature.
Funneling event. Analogous to the term in genetics, the reduction in variation in a population of chain letters occupying a niche due to the recent capture of the niche by the descendants of a single letter. CLEVO
Generation time (average). Of a chain letter type, the average time elapsed from receipt to receipt along lineages. Estimating from deadlines and lists of dates, since 1970 the generation time of mainline luck chain letters is about one week. CLEVO
Good Luck. A type of mainline chain letter characterized by: (1) copy quota nine, deadline 24 hours and waiting period nine days, (2) brevity and secularity and (3) "send copies to people you wish good luck." Some had a leading senders list with the form "X to Y." Circulated from around 1922 to 1928, often titled "Good Luck." Allegedly written by an American officer during World War I. Likely an ancestor of most luck chain letters in the world today. Example: . CLEVO
Growth constant. For the exponential growth y = y0 ekt the constant k. See exponential growth. Compare to the P rate of growth. CLEVO
Himmelsbrief. German for "Letter from Heaven." Usually restricted to apocryphal Christian letters that claim divine origin. CLEVO
Hyatt letter. The
standard example for the Prosperity type luck chain letter, and the only one
known from before 1935. The earliest letter in our sample
with a managed list. Published by Harry
M. Hyatt in Folklore from Adams
County, Illinois. Circulated in the latter part of
Hybrid. A chain letter
produced by concatenating the nearly complete texts of two or more chain
letters. This happened at least twice, once in the formation of the Lottery-Death type, and in the formation of the Death-Lottery type, in North America in the 1970's.
Hyper-competitive. Of a descent group (or its founder, or its most effective feature): its capacity to replicate in such large numbers and so quickly that within a few years it replaces all other chain letters in the same niche. Those letters replaced apparently cease all circulation. CLEVO
Identification. A recipient's determination (not necessarily correct) that a received letter is a luck chain letter; or that it is a particular type of luck chain letter, such as one associated with a certain nationality or religion. CLEVO
Immunization. The effect whereby recipients distribute fewer copies of a chain letter if they have recently received one or more chain letters of the same motivational category. CLEVO
Incidental features. Features in a chain letter, such as variations in names or choice of words, that are safely presumed to have no effect on propagation.
Innovation. An intentional change to a chain letter. May be a modification, addition or deletion. Often one judged to have a significant positive effect on propagation.
It Works postscript.
On the Death-Lottery (DL) type luck chain
letter, the hyper-competitive
postscript (or a variant): "Remember, do not send money.
Please do not ignore this. It works!" Developed in
two phases around 1978 - 1979. CLEVO
Jane Doe. Pseudonym
used for the anonymous author of the first Send-a-Dime chain letter.
Presumed to be a Denver woman based on Donald Wicket's account of her consulting
an attorney concerning the legality of the scheme.
Key feature. Of a chain letter variation that has undergone increased circulation, that feature judged to be most responsible for this.
Kiss title. The title (or variants): "Kiss someone you love when you get this letter and make magic." First appeared around 1982 on a Death-Lottery type luck chain letter. CLEVO
Kiss-Love founder. The most recent common ancestor of the Kiss titled letters and the Love titled letters. The Kiss-Love founder was close to [1983-04], and was either titleless or bore a Kiss title. The Kiss-Love clade captured the mainline in a few years. CLEVO
KLC (Kiss-Love-Car). An abundant variation in DL luck chain letters in which the Kiss title has been transferred to the top of a Love titled letter, Love being retained immediately below. Example: . CLEVO
Launch. The initial distribution of a new chain letter variation or type.
LD (Lottery-Death). A mainline chain letter type consisting of the Lottery24 block followed by a Death20 block. Circulated abundantly from 1974-75. Example: . CLEVO
Letter from Heaven. A . A letter claiming to have been written by some divine personage, either in the letter itself or in a preamble. At least one asked the reader to make copies (Ellis), but most request that the reader publish the letter. Circulated in Europe and elsewhere since at least the 6th century AD. Also called Himmelsbrief. A category of "chain letters" that appeal to religious piety for replication. CLEVO
Lose testimonial. A form of luck chain letter testimonial claiming that a certain prior recipient failed to distribute the chain letter and subsequently suffered some misfortune. Example: Unbeliever's death. See also Win, Comply-Win, Lose-Win and Win-Lose. CLEVO
Lose-Win testimonial. A form of luck chain letter testimonial claiming that a certain prior recipient experienced bad luck after holding the letter past the deadline, but after belatedly distributing the full copy quota received good luck that more than made up for the prior misfortune. Example: Lost job - better job. CLEVO
Lost job - better job. The Lose-Win testimonial (and its variants): "Carlos Brandt, an office employee, received the chain. He forgot it and lost it. A few days after, he lost his job. He found the chain, sent it out to 24 people, and nine days later, he got a better job." First appeared in English in the early 1970's on the Lottery24 block of DL and LD luck chain letters. CLEVO
Lottery24. A type of luck chain letter, likely of South American origin, characterized by: (1) a copy quota originally 24, (2) the presence of the Boss Wins Lottery testimonial and (3) the absence of a Death20 block. Presumed to have circulated in English in the early 1970's, previously in Spanish. Was combined with Death20 around 1973. No examples of Lottery24 in an uncombined form have been collected. CLEVO
Love title. The title (or variants): "With love all things are possible." First appeared around  on Death-Lottery type luck chain letters. CLEVO
Luck by Mail. A type of mainline luck chain letter characterized by: (1) copy quota five (this copy plus four), (2) "this is not a joke" and (3) the claim that luck will come "by mail." A highly variable type; some contain the Proverbs title. Circulated from around  - . Gave rise to the Media Chain Letter. CLEVO
Luck chain letter. A category of chain letters that appeal primarily to superstition to motivate replication. Also called "prayer" chain letters, but distinguished from the category of Letters from Heaven which appeal to religious piety. CLEVO
Luck of London. A luck chain letter variation known from two collected examples [1944, 1945] and a mention by De Lys, (1948). Closely related to the prior Prosperity type, it had copy quota five, deadline twenty four hours and wait four days. De Lys said it had started during the blitz (1940-41) and was still circulating in North America and Europe in 1948. CLEVO
Mainline. For English language luck chain letters, the sequence of types, commencing with Ancient Prayer, that have circulated abundantly at some time and which share much text in common with the prior mainline type. CLEVO
Malabon. A city just north of Manila in the Philippines. According to a chain letter [US, 1984], the origin of a luck chain letter that has "spread throughout the world."
Managed list. A list of prior senders on a chain letter accompanied by an instruction to (i) delete the name in the top slot, (ii) move the remaining names up one slot, and (iii) add the recipient's name in the bottom slot. Also called an escalating list. Usually addresses are also present and moved. First appears in our sample on a 1933 luck chain letter [US, 1933], but may be much earlier (Paul Collins).
Media Chain Letter. A quota five luck chain letter, derived from the Luck by Mail type, which (1) instructs one to have a "secretary" make copies and (2) often has attached cover letters from prior senders. Its circulation began in 1989 - previously it was combined with the Play Golf office humor item. Example: [1990-10]. CLEVO
Meme. As defined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976): "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation." "Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation." In this sense, chain letter components are memes.
Money chain letter. A motivational category of chain letters that appeal to the recipient's desire for money. They urge that money be sent to one or more prior senders, claiming that the recipient will in turn receive a large sum of money. Example: . Origin
Multilevel marketing. Various hierarchical systems of downline sales commissions, motivated by the hope for exponential feedback. Recruitment of sellers is more emphasized than sales. Developed in the late 1930's, influenced by pyramid sales schemes and money chain letters.
Network of transmissions. For a social replicator V, the network whose nodes and directed connections are specified as follows.
(1) Each person who received and/or transmitted V specifies one and only one node.The network of transmissions of V regards all variations of V as the same replicator.
(2) For each transmission of V from person A to person B, node A is connected to node B.
(3) With each such connection there is associated the time of receipt of V.
Niche. A subdivision
within a motivational category of chain letters. For example, of exchange
letters, postcards or recipes may be exchanged. Also a subdivision of the
population of recipients (e.g. by gender, age, ethnic identity, language)
that manifests in the propagation of varying chain letters with content specialized
for this subdivision.
A nine days' private or public devotion in the Catholic
Church to obtain special graces. (From the Catholic Encyclopedia)
One-in-a-Hundred-Rule. The following rule of thumb to explain the success of hyper-competitive versions of mainline letters as evident in the Paper Chain Letter Archive. It assumes an initial phase of exponential growth with the stated weekly rate of growth equal to 1.2 (120 letters out for 100 received).
Consider a stable population of quota 20 mainline luck chain letters with a generation time of one week. If a variation arises that gets just one extra person in a hundred to fully comply, the circulation of this variation will double every month and within three years it will be the only mainline luck chain letter still circulating.Outlier. Of English language luck chain letters, a type that is not in the mainline. Often a translated foreign letter. CLEVO
Parent. Chain letter P is
a parent of letter C if almost all the text of C has been copied from P. For expository convenience, we also consider
a received letter to be a parent of itself if this same physical letter is
in turn is distributed.
Parody (joke). A motivational category of chain letters that mock the form or content of chain letters for humorous effect. Parodies circulate like office humor, or by publication. Technically they are not chain letters since there is no serious demand for replication. Example: [US, 1935]. CLEVO
Participant age. Of a social activity, the average age of those who participate in it. For chain letters, the average age of the senders, averaged over each copy received.
Petition chain letter. A petition that requests the recipient to effect its own reproduction, circulation and delivery to a person or institution. These are usually acategorizeds advocacy chain letters. CLEVO
Play Golf. An office humor item that compares the ill fate of several 1920's tycoons to golfer Gene Sarazen. "Conclusion: Stop worrying about business and go play golf." Internal dates suggest this was written as early as 1948 . Later a chain letter was attached to the bottom. See Play Golf Plus. CLEVO
Play Golf Plus. The Play Golf office humor item with a quota five chain letter added at the bottom. Circulated beginning around 1972. In the Media chain letter the Play Golf item is removed . CLEVO
Positive Feature. A feature that is judged to be responsible, at least in part, for the increased propagation of the letters bearing it. Features may also be neutral or negative. CLEVO
Post-linked features. Within a group of chain letters, feature G is post-linked to feature H if every letter that bears G also bears H, but at least one letter bears H and not G (excluding a deletion of G). This implies that the first letter on which G appeared already bore H. Often H is a hyper-competitive feature, in which case G may become frequent as a rider on H, even if G itself has no positive effect on replication. In the terminology of cladistics, G is a "derived" character (apomorphy) in discussing the clade (taxon) founded by H. CLEVO
Pre-linked features. Within a group of chain letters, feature G is pre-linked to feature H if H is post-linked to G. Every letter that bears H will also bear G, but at least one letter bears G and not H. In the terminology of cladistics, G is ancestral (plesiomorphic) to H in discussing the clade founded by G. CLEVOPreston, Michael J. English professor and folklorist, author of "Chain Letters," Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin, v. 42, 1976. This documented the combining of two luck chain letters onto one page, and presented multiple unedited versions of chain letters.
Propagation. Of a chain letter variation at a given time, the number of receipts in the month following. Propagation measures the replicative success of a letter and is presumed to be roughly correlated with its frequency of appearance in our dated collection. CLEVO
Prosperity. A mainline type of luck chain letter characterized by (1) copy quota five, deadline 24 hours and wait nine or four days, (2) a managed list of six senders on the earliest example, and (3) an instruction to send the letters to "people you wish prosperity to." Known from two examples [1933, 1939], a reduced post card from  and later retitled "Luck of London" letters . CLEVO
Proverbs title. For chain letters, the King James version of Proverbs 3:5-6 (and its corruptions): "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." Appeared on some mainline letters beginning in 1952, on all after 1968 until replaced in 1983. See Trust title. CLEVO
Pyramid sales scheme. "For the purposes of this Law, the term 'pyramid sales scheme' refers to a plan or organization designed for merchandise or service propagation or sales, the participants in which can obtain, for a certain consideration, the rights of promoting or selling merchandise or services, as well as the right to introduce new participants, thereby obtaining commissions, bonuses or other economic benefits. The 'certain consideration' referred to . . . shall be an amount of money, a purchase of merchandise, a contribution of labor, or the incurrence of obligations" (Taiwan law). Pyramid sales schemes (now illegal in the US) go back at least to the 1890's, and boomed in the early 1930's. An early personal letter reveals the personal impact of pyramid sales .
Pyramid scheme (n tier). An illegal financial scheme in which: (1) participants are recruited by chain letter, by friends, or at meetings, (2) a list of n names is displayed or distributed (often sold) to new participants, and (3) the payment of an "ante" to the top name on the list by new participants is notarized or supervised. Developed from money chain letters in May 1935. See Springfield.
Rate of growth. For a population y(t) and for some interval of time P, the "P rate of growth" at time t, p(t), is
p(t) = [y(t+P) - y(t)] / [y(t) - y(t-P)].Thus for chain letters with P = 30 days, the "monthly rate of growth" at time t is the propagation at t divided by the propagation a month previously. During exponential growth the rate of growth is constant. Differs from the growth constant. CLEVO
Replicative. Of an entity, capable of producing at least two more entities like itself under certain circumstances. Of a cultural item, spreading from person to person without exterior promotion or subsidy.
Replication. A general term for copying. The person to person transmission of a chain letter, without regard to rapidity or numbers. See propagation.
Replicator. Generally, a replicative entity. A social replicator.
Restart. To launch a money chain letter or pyramid scheme which is a copy of one received, except that the names in the list are replaced by new names, usually the names of the originator, co-conspirators and aliases.
Retention. Of a received chain letter, keeping it in an undamaged state, accessible for copying. CLEVO
Rider. A feature of an increasing chain letter variation that itself does not motivate significant propagation, the increasing circulation due instead to other features present on the letter.
Romance Game. A outlier luck chain letter type spread as a classroom note, typically between young teenage girls. It purports to be a love charm that can get "the boy you like" to ask you out. Highly variable, the copy quota ranges from four to eight copies. Circulation in paper is documented from 1992 to 1998. CLEVO
Sabbath type. A uncollected early type of "luck" chain letter characterized by: (1) copy quota seven and deadline seven days, (2) protest of perceived Sabbath violations (theater, beer) and (3) a prayer. It promised no personal benefit to the sender. Circulated shortly after 1900. Documented only by Donald Furthman Wickets. CLEVO
St. Antoine. The French form of "St. Antony." Probably St. Antony of Padua (1195 - 1231), called the "wonder - worker," and patron of the poor. The name appears on early versions of the Lottery24 letter, and hence probably on its Latin American ancestors. There is a 1994 Brazilian example with "Santo Antonio." Also appears on some French and Polish letters ("St. Antony") and early versions of the Blind13 U.S. type.
St. Jude (St. Jude Thaddeus). An apostle, and saint of "hopeless causes," of "things almost despaired of." "St. Jude" first appeared on English language chain letters around 1987. "St. Jude Thaddeus" has appeared on Mexican chain letters since at least 1984. For a history of devotional practices see (Orsi 1991) and (NYT 1993b). CLEVO
Self-correcting text. Text that, because of its redundancy or familiarity, is less subject to corruption during copying. CLEVO
Self-terminating. A feature of early charity chain letters in which recipients were instructed to increase a number by one until it reached some maximum count, at which time no more copies were to be distributed. Specified in the definition of "Chain letter" in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989. CLEVO
Send-a-Dime. A type of money chain letter characterized by: (1) a copy quota of five (rarely six) and deadline of three days, (2) a leading managed list of six names and addresses and (3) the instruction to send a dime to the first name on the list. The first money chain letter; started around April 1935. Usually titled Prosperity Club. Versions often kited the ante to more than a dime. Example: . See Jane Doe. CLEVO
Senders list. A list of alleged prior senders on a chain letter.
Social replicator. Any replicative item passed from person to person. For example, a chain letter, joke, new word, attitude, graffiti, etc. A meme or "meme complex."
Specifications (numerical specifications). The copy quota, deadline and waiting period of a luck chain letter. Also the number of names on a managed list, if present. For exchange or money chain letters, these plus the number of items or cash amount to send. For pyramid schemes, these plus the amount to sell each copy for, usually equal to the amount to send.
Springfield (Pyramid). A type of illegal pyramid scheme in which: (1) B buys a letter (bearing a list of n names) for d dollars from seller A, (2) B sends d dollars to the person at the top of the list, (3) two copies of the letter are prepared with this top name removed, the others moved up one slot, and B's name placed at the bottom below A, (4) B tries to sell the two letters for d dollars each. If B accomplishes this he will then have recouped his initial investment of 2d dollars, and has the chance of receiving dx2n dollars from future buyers.
Most pyramid schemes since the 1950's have been the Springfield type (Bonds, Circle of Gold). Five dollar chain letters using this method first appeared on May 8, 1935 during the chain letter craze in Springfield, Missouri. Allen Oliver reported conversation moments after its inception (Springfield Leader and Press). See also the New York Times for May 9, 1935. Wickets calls these "guaranteed" letters (Liberty), but this term is used for a different process in the New York Times (May 12).
Standard example. For a descent group of chain letters: a letter judged to best approximate the founder of the descent group. Usually the oldest example with no major deletions. Used to define what is and is not a "variation" within the descent group.
Symbiotic distribution. For two different social replicators: receipt of one favors the distribution of the other, and the targets of distribution tend to be the same people. CLEVO
Targeted distribution. Any preference or exclusion in the choice of whom to send a chain letter, as in response to a suggestion in the letter. CLEVO
Testimonial. For luck chain letters, a story about good luck and/or bad luck experienced by a prior recipient. For money chain letters, a fictional account of money obtained by prior use of the letter. CLEVO
Transfer. In producing copy C using parent letter P, placement of text from a third letter D (the donor) onto copy C. The text may be directly copied or produced from memory. Usually the transferred text is a component of D. This process, or the text involved, is called a transfer. The text may be translated into the language of letter C. CLEVO
Transfer-linked features. Features G and H are transfer-linked within a group of letters if both appear separately (barring deletions) and they also appear together. This implies that either feature G was transferred to a letter bearing H, or feature H was transferred to a letter bearing G. In the terminology of cladistics, characters G and H are said to be conflicting, or homoplastic. CLEVO
Tree of variations. Within a descent group of a varying chain letters, the diagram of how variations were derived from one another. Formally, for descent group G, the tree whose nodes and directed connections are specified as follows.
(1) Each clone group of G specifies one and only one node.There are no cycles or converging branches in a tree of variations. CLEVO
(2) If any member of the clone group V is a parent of a founder of clone group V' then node V is connected to node V'.
True cladogram. For a sample of chain letters within a descent group (clade), the cladogram constructed by applying the most recent common ancestor relationships among pairs in the sample. Constructible using the tree of variations of the clade. CLEVO
Trust title. The corruption of Proverbs 3:5-6 that was pre-linked to the hyper-competetive It Works postscript of the Death-Lottery letter: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and he will acknowledge and he will light the way." Also its subsequent variants. Present from around 1979 to 1983. See Proverbs. CLEVO
Type. A group of chain letters with easily recognized and persistent features that distinguish these letters from others in the same niche. The broadest classification of chain letters within a motivational category. A type may or may not be a descent group. The Good Luck type probably is not since it excludes the Prosperity type which likely descended from a Good Luck variation. The concept of a "type" does not work so well for mainline luck chain letters from 1940 - 1970, though further collecting may clarify types in this period. CLEVO
Unbeliever's Death. The testimonial (and its variants): "Dolan Fairchild received the letter and not believing it, threw the letter away. Nine days later, he died ." It appears in the Lottery24 block of DL and LD luck chain letters. CLEVO
Universal feature. A feature that is present on all chain letters within some niche, except for deletions. For example, "Do not send money" is universal among mainline luck chain letters since 1939.
Unlinked features. Features G and H are unlinked if, within a group of chain letters under discussion, G and H are present by themselves but there is no known letter which bears both G and H together. CLEVO
Variation. For a member of some descent group of chain letters, a change in the text as compared to the founder (using the standard example) of the descent group. A "variation" can be an addition, deletion, spelling error, etc. and may not be a feature. The letters bearing such a change. CLEVO
Version. A particular variation of a component on a chain letter, or the letter bearing a particular variation.
Waiting period. The time, as specified on many luck chain letters, that a recipient must wait before receiving good luck.
Wickets, Donald Furthman. Author of "Chain Letter Madness," Liberty, July 20, 1935. The only source for the Sabbath chain letter (a very early "luck" chain letter). The only source for information on the author of Send-a-Dime (the first money chain letter, see Jane Doe ). "Donald Furthman Wickets" is a pen name for George Sylvester Viereck, German born American poet and writer who supported Nazi Germany and was imprisoned during World War II for failing to register as a foreign agent.
Win testimonial. A Copy Later type of chain letter testimonial recounting the good fortune experienced by a recipient of the letter. There is no mention of the recipient complying with the copy demands of the letter. See Comply-Win. CLEVO
A Copy Later type of chain letter testimonial
claiming that a prior recipient had good luck, but after failing
to distribute the letter suffered an unlucky loss that equaled or
exceeded the prior gain. Example: Death
and Money. CLEVO
"World Record" chain letter. A motivational
category of chain letters that falsely claims participation
may result in recognition by Guinness of a world record for chain
letters. Developed from a post card exchange letter, specialized
to circulate among children, around the year 2000. CLEVO
Daniel W. VanArsdale: email Index Page
Contents of the Paper Chain Letter Archive Chain Letter Evolution