Spam

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You probably know about Spam, the meat product. Do you know about the connection between Spam and the English verb/noun “spam”?

The noncountable noun/verb “spam” means “e-mail and other internet messages that you don’t want.” Usually, these messages are advertising something (“BUY SOFTWARE CHEAP NOW”). People also use this word to mean “posting too often” or “posting a message over and over again.” Imagine that your Twitter account has a problem. It accidentally posts your Tweet 5 times. You might apologize by writing “Sorry for spamming everyone. It was an accident!”

You can get advertising spam on your blog, in your e-mail, on Twitter, etc. Recently, someone spammed Readable Blog on Facebook! That’s why I started thinking about the word “spam.”

Spam (the meat product) is not very common or popular in the US. However, we don’t usually use it as an insult. So how did it become the word for internet messages that you don’t want?

Monty Python is the name of a British comedy group. They were most active during the 1970s, but they are still popular today. In the US, they are especially popular with geeky people. Below is one of their famous sketches (comedy performances). The “Spam” sketch starts around 0:32 and ends around 2:41–sort of. Two people are in a cafe trying to order breakfast. The server or shop owner is telling them what she can serve them. (Yes, all of the main performers are men.) Warning: There are a couple of body-part words in here. Don’t watch it at work, and don’t watch it if you are under age 16 without your parents’ permission.

It might be hard to understand all of it (Monty Python’s comedy is very strange). But I think you’ll get the main idea. You can watch a higher-resolution official video with no subtitles here.

When the internet was still new, there were online games and message boards. People who used these games and message boards sometimes typed the words of the “Spam” sketch or just “Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam.” After a while, people started to call this kind of annoying activity “spam.” Later, people also started to post messages to message boards trying to sell things or get others to join money-making plans.

In 1998, the New Oxford English Dictionary added this definition to “Spam”: “Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users.” (There’s a long explanation about all this on Wikipedia.)

And now we get spam all the time. It’s everywhere, just like the Spam in the comedy sketch.

Annoying!