Why Is It Called "Spam," Anyway?

You might think it rather weird that "spam" (UCE, or unsolicited commercial email) is homonymous with "SPAM" (the all-capitalized, trademarked name for small loaves of spiced ham--SPiced hAM=SPAM--- made by Hormel foods).

But there actually is a connection--- albeit an indirect one: According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition, 2000) the use of spam to refer to unsolicited commercial email was "probably inspired by a comedy routine on the British television series Monty Python's Flying Circus, in which the word is repeated incessantly."

Of course, true Python fans know that SPAM cropped up in several skits, including one where it was almost the only thing on a restaurant menu. ("SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, eggs, and SPAM...")

The Hormel company singles out one particular Pythonesque use:

"Use of the term 'SPAM' was adopted as a result of the Monty Python skit in which a group of Vikings sang a chorus of 'SPAM, SPAM, SPAM . . . ' in an increasing crescendo, drowning out other conversation. Hence, the analogy applied because UCE was drowning out normal discourse on the Internet."

Of course, Hormel may have brought it on themselves: It created the world's first commercial radio jingle in 1937, and the first four words of the jingle are--- and I am not making this up--- "SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM...."

Still, and to their credit, the folks at Hormel are being very good sports about the neologistic use of their trade name, even devoting a page at their Spam.com site--- yes, there is such a thing--- to the subject:

Spam.com