When you say SPAM, it had better mean canned luncheon meat

SPAM is Luncheon Meat. "spam" or "Spam" is unsolicited bulk marketing emails. Got it?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer


About a week ago I wrote an post about why I felt the United States Postal Service (USPS) needed a complete overhaul on how it handled bulk marketing materials -- aka junk mail. In it I referred to junk mail as "Physical SPAM", to make an analogy to many of the unwanted unsolicited emails that we all receive every day which slips through even the best of electronic filtering systems.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Well, a few days ago, I received the following communication from the Hormel Foods company:

I was somewhat taken aback by this. I mean, didn't everyone use the word SPAM? In full capitalization? Well, if all Hormel was asking for was to change the word to lower caps, I guess it wasn't unreasonable to comply with their request. It didn't seem like a big deal. So I did it.

However, I think it begs the greater question of why do we call bulk unsolicited emails "spam" in the first place? And why should we continue to do this? For those of you not old enough to remember, it all started with a television segment by the British comedy troupe Monty Python, broadcast in 1970:

The use of the word "Spam" to describe unsolicited bulk electronic messages actually pre-dates the Internet, on 1980s Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), when obnoxious posters familiar with the Python sketch would append the words SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM ad nauseum to the end of a message in order to slow down the reading of the messages on the system. In the early 80's these BBS systems used dial-in analog telephone modems that transmitted at 300-1200bps (bits per second, extremely slow compared to today's multi-megabit-range standards) so watching "SPAM SPAM SPAM" scroll across the screen a few hundred times and actually seeing each character spit out in a seemingly never-ending uninterrupted scroll was extremely annoying.

Back then, many bulletin board systems and early Personal Computers (such as the Radio Shack TRS-80 and the Apple ][) and teletype systems prior to ROM updates that permitted the use of lowercase used character sets with ALLCAPS, so THERE WAS NO OPTION OF USING LOWER CASE VERSIONS OF THE WORD "SPAM". Years later, "Spam" is now meant to describe any unwanted electronic communication of a commercial or nefarious nature (such asadvance-fee 419s fraud schemes sent from Nigeria and other countries) sent in bulk.

Now, I'm not a fan of the SPAM product. But there are certainly a lot of people who are, particularly the entire State of Hawaii, which just trailing the US territory of Guam, consumes more SPAM than any place in the entire world, over 13 cans per per person per year. In fact, they have an entire dish created to use the product, SPAM Musubi, and there are variants of the very tasty dish Loco Moco served throughout the islands which include a slice of SPAM in it. In Hawaii, Guam and Saipan, McDonalds and Burger King both serve SPAM on their menus. It is hugely popular in Okinawa, Japan, Korea as well as in the Philippines and other Pacific island nations. And if you believe the sketch, Great Britain.

I can certainly understand why Hormel would not want to mar its reputation by associating itself with unwanted email messages. I mean let's face it, we all hate Spam, and while my own culinary tastes do not include the SPAM gelatinous processed pork product, I do like many of Hormel's products, particularly their high-end Dilusso line, which includes their very good Genoa Salami, perhaps one of the best in the entire industry, and is a core component of any well-made Italian Sub.  Dilusso Pepperoni is also one of the best-made in the entire business and I can't think of any other that I'd rather have to adorn my pizza.

After all these years, I think that Hormel deserves a break. Maybe we need a new word for Bulk Unsolicited Email Messages. Like "BUEM" or USIMI (Unsolicited Shit In My Inbox). Or even e-Junk or e-Crud.

What say you? Can we give Hormel a break? Can we find a new word for Spam? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Editorial standards