The origin of the word ‘spam’


Spam is the scourge of the digital age. Naturally I don’t mean the processed meat that comes served in a tin (though that is pretty distasteful too), but the deluge of unsolicited email that I and millions of others receive on a daily basis.

But why ‘spam’? I mean, why has a word that’s best associated with a poor-quality meat product been so widely embraced as the universal word for unwanted electronic communications?

I asked a multitude of people who’ve worked in IT for over a decade why the word ‘spam’ has been appropriated for this use and not one could answer – in fact, nobody was really all that bothered. A word is just a word, after all.

But for those of you out there who, like me, like to know why certain words get to where they are, I’ve done a little digging. Well, I knocked on a few doors at Google, if truth be told.

It can be traced back to 1970 actually. Month Python’s Flying Circus – one of the finest comedies of all time, might I add – did a famous sketch on the subject of Spam (the food product), where everything in a cafe came served with at least some Spam. ‘Eggs and Spam’, Chips and Spam’, ‘Egg, Spam, Chips and Spam’…and so on. And randomly, some Vikings (your guess is as good as mine…) start singing a song consisting pretty much entirely of the word ‘Spam’, until told to shut up.

And this was why the word ‘Spam’ came to be associated with unsolicited, mass electronic communications. A handful of early internet users with a penchant for John Cleese & Co’s classic comedy decided that ‘spam’ was an apt expression for something that is sent repeatedly, indiscriminately and to everyone’s chagrin.

Watch the clip for yourself here: