How Spam (The Mystery Meat) Morphed Into Computer Spam: Marshall's Musings

The Wall Street Journals Ben Zimmer tackled this very question recently and discovered to can credit Monty Python loving Silicon Valley Geeks.

First a bit of history:

Hormel Foods rolled out Spam in 1937. The name may or may not have been the winner of a name that food contest run by the company at the time. What does Spam mean? It may or may not mean "spiced ham". Because of its long shelf life it became a substitute when no fresh meat was available especially during World War II.

Remembering the war time shortages the British members of Monty Python's Flying Circus turned it into a weird punchline and song during a 1970 TV sketch....

Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!

Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam

Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am

Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am

Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am

Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am

Lovely Spam! (Lovely Spam!)

Lovely Spam! (Lovely Spam!)

Lovely Spam!

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!

Ben Zimmer says that sketch was a favorite of tech nerds of the 1980s and they managed to weave it into the computing lexicon of the day. As early as 1984 "spam" was used as a place holder term for variables in discussions of computer programming, The term "spam" could be used over and over again as a way to flood message boards to keep other users from posting. And bingo , by 1990 "spam became a verb referring to this type of flooding. Zimmer quotes one early gamer as saying "It's been generalized to mean sending lots of crap to servers as well as people you want to annoy the hell out of" ""

Following annoying "spamming " attacks for mere mischief it morphed into the commercial type of spam that reared it's ugly head on email servers.

 
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