[author: Dan Kelly]
I’m speaking of the e-mail variety of spam. I had occasion recently to ask some tech-savvy folks if they knew the origin of the word “spam” as applied to voluminous, unwanted e-mail. Most did not.
I am aware that a few stories have been floated on the etymology of spam as applied to e-mail, but I am convinced that the origin lies in this sketch by Monty Python from 1970:
To view video, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anwy2MPT5RE&feature=player_embedded
In the early days of the Internet — in the days of dial-up connections and message boards — in what must have been one of the earliest memes, if not the first, a common prank was to clog boards and the connections of other users with unwanted or nonsensical messages, a common variety of which comprised nothing more than the word SPAM repeated over and over again, just like in the Monty Python sketch. The name stuck as a generic term for all such messages and was even “verbed.”
The point? I’ve noticed how quickly we lose the origins of things, and the etymology of spam is a good story worth repeating and remembering, if for nothing else than some comic relief. Words are born, and words die. Several years ago, I went to a coffee shop with a friend. I ordered a decaf coffee, and my friend, ordering after me, said something like, “you better make mine leaded.” The 16-something year-old kid working the register, who probably never knew or had reason to know that there ever was such a thing as “leaded gasoline,” just stared blankly at my friend, as if he had ordered coffee from Mars. It was a very funny moment — and telling about how old we were.
Here’s to keeping good words alive and well.
Communications & Media Law Updates
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