Why we call junk email "spam"

Updated at: Aug 15, 2019
By Gatefy

Why we call junk email spam

Junk email and any other unsolicited message are called spam because of a British comedy group called Monty Python and a canned ham from Hormel Foods named "SPAM". The term began to be widely used as a synonym for unwanted message after the Pythons created a sketch in the 1970s in which "spam" was repeated exhaustively inside a cafe.

A menu full of SPAM

In the sketch, a man and a woman enter a restaurant and ask about the menu. The waitress's response is a flood of spam. “Well, there’s egg and bacon. Egg, sausage and bacon. Egg and SPAM. Egg, bacon and SPAM. Egg, bacon, sausage and SPAM. SPAM, bacon, sausage and SPAM…”.

Slowly almost the entire menu is converted into SPAM. So the client says she doesn’t like SPAM and asks if there are other options in the menu. The question ends up annoying the waitress, and a short discussion begins.

The funny thing about the story is that a group of Vikings, which is already sitting in the restaurant, interrupts the conversation singing a song praising the spam. “SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM. Lovely SPAM! Wonderful SPAM!”

The angry waitress's answer is “Shut up! Shut up!” And this is how the word "spam" has become eternalized as synonymous with something repetitive, annoying and unwanted.

Spamming on the Internet

Researcher Brad Templeton investigated the origin of the term spam. He explains that the word’s popularization on the internet happened in the 80's and has to do with multiplayer virtual worlds, also known as MUDs, such as The Sims and Minecraft.

At that time, in general, spamming was used to describe the use of bots to create a lot of objects or to flood machines with data or to flood a chat session with text. From there, the term spam has expanded in the digital world to different areas and has been used more frequently.

Today we already use spam to talk about unsolicited and unwanted emails, calls and text messages. In addition, we have even created different categories and types of spam. In the case of email spams, for example, we can talk about ads, chain letters, hoaxes, money scams and email spoofing.

Despite the comic origin, when we're speaking about internet and security, the word spam has a very negative connotation. Spam is a risk factor for people and businesses, being used by cybercriminals as a tool for scams and frauds.

Spam in the can

We couldn’t finish this text without talking a little more about Hormel Foods, right? SPAM® is a registered trademark, and is an abbreviation for spiced ham. Obviously, the company wasn’t happy with the use of the term spam in that bad way. In fact, even lawsuits have come about because of this.

But the fact is that, over time, the company was smart and knew how to use the term for positive marketing, as their website points out:

“When the first SPAM® can came off the production line in 1937, the world was forever changed. This revolutionary new product won over the hearts of soldiers, world leaders, celebrities, chefs, kids and parents. Gracie Allen, Dwight Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher and Monty Python all have sung praises of SPAM® products. And future generations continue to enjoy it as a versatile, high-quality and great-tasting meal-time favorite. The whole world can’t get enough of the iconic taste and the effortless meal creativity contained within this little blue can”.