Why spam? (an etymology question)

I’m referrring to the computer kind of spam, not the processed meat product. How did it get to be called that?

My understanding was the Spam e-mail was called Spam because it was in poor taste, unwanted, unappealing, cheezy, cheap, and disgusting, just like the meat product.


Bloody Vikings!

Cugel has it. It’s from a Monty Python sketch where Vikings are chanting “Spam, Spam, Spam…” over and over.

ccwaterback’s post is a folk etymology and is therefore 100% absolutely dead wrong.

No, it’s an urban legend, or a sarcastic comment, but it’s not folk etymology, which is when a word changes to match a popular usage. “Turtle” is an example of a folk etymology (it originally was “tortue,” but changed to match the bird “turtle,” which later had “dove” added to its name to differentiate), as is “woodchuck” (originally “wachuck,” spelled various ways)and “salt cellar” (originally “saliere”; “salt” was added to differentiate).

I’ve just finished with reading The Triumph of the Straight Dope.

In it, the Master says:

Here’s the online version:


As my dad (who was a kid during the government-enforced rationing days of WWII) always says whenever anyone disparages SPAMTM,

“We were damn glad to have some MEAT.”


I’ve noticed he never eats the stuff, ever, these days, though.

RealityChuck: According to [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folk_etymology]Wikipedia**, my usage is 100% correct. Note that Wikipedia gives your meaning as an effect of folk etymology. (But it does appear that there is micro-dispute over the meaning of the term.)

Fixed link.

This site has a lot more detail than cecil’s brief explanation:

The article goes on to say that the term probably goes back to the MUDs of the early 80’s but that it really isn’t completely tracable then.

The above article also has a reference to the first ever email spam, from 1978:

Man if that doesn’t smack of a Snopes “definitive answer” to the question.

I have a vague recollection that it has something to do with the spam hitting the fan: it flies all over the place, hitting everything, whether it’s a good target or not. It’s very unpleasant to be hit with bits of spam, unless you are really hungry. Alas, I have no cite.

I was told once that it was from the acronym. S.P.A.M.=Self-Promoting Ad Mail and referred to mass mailings through the post office before the internet became popular.

This sounds suspiciously like another one of the faux acronyms created after the fact to supposedly explain word origins. Others include C.O.P., T.I.P., F.U.C.K., S.H.I.T., etc. All are false etymologies.

SPAM is easy. It came from combining the words “spiced ham.” The popularity of the Monty Python sketch amongst computer nerds led to its use for unwanted e-mail.

Back in the stone ages when there were very few people actually using e-mail (remember the addresses with a ! (bang)?), there seemed to be much more communication going on via newsgroups (not web forums like SDMB, but internet newsgroups). I worked with a sys admin that monitored a newsgroup. He always complained of the spammers attacking his newsgroup. When I asked what spam was, it was explained to me that spam was any annoying, worthless crap, just like the meat. In the next few years, e-mail became popular, the bangs went away, and spam found a new home. Apparently the Monty Python spam sketch has become a more popular, PC way of explaining the spam phenomenon. Although, the internet newsgroup spam I encountered pre-dates the Montey Python sketch.



IIRC, the first instance of spam is the Siegel attack.

It was quickly countered by the now legendary “cancelmoose.”

I heard that in SPAM in this case was an acronym for Single Post Across Multiple (groups)

Better do your research a little better. The Spam sketch appeared on the Monty Python episode first broadcast on December 15, 1970. It appeared on American TV (PBS) in 1975-76.

The Monty Python spam sketch first aired on December 15, 1970.

Unless your newsgroup used punched cards, the Monty Python sketch came first.

(BTW, Monty Python’s The Final Ripoff was a greatest hit collection of their material, not the original release.)

I remember seeing it used waaay back in the chat rooms of AOL 1.0 or 2.0, back when I was on a 2400 baud modem. It started off simply…whenever the chat died down for a minute or two, someone would start quoting the Monty Python spam sketch, presumably because the inanity of “spam spam spam spam spam” was a comment on how boring the silence was. Everyone would join in for a few minutes, and that would usually jumpstart the chat room back into action. Soon, though, jerks would start doing it right in the middle of the conversation, and they’d hit enter after every “spam” so as to, well, spam the room, and no one else could talk. Pretty soon, AOL made a rule against spamming in this way, and you’d automatically get kicked out of the room if you tried it.