Terry Zink's Cyber Security Blog

Discussing Internet security in (mostly) plain English

Origins of the word spam

Origins of the word spam

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I have Yahoo set as my home page, and from time to time they have a decent article on cyber-security.  I’d say that I get between 5-10% of my ideas from Yahoo.

Recently, someone asked the question what the origins of the term “spam” was.  Here is the response:

According to The Internet Society,

The term "spam" as it is used to denote mass unsolicited mailings or netnews postings is derived from a Monty Python sketch set in a movie/tv studio cafeteria. During that sketch, the word "spam" takes over each item offered on the menu until the entire dialogue consists of nothing but "spam spam spam spam spam spam and spam." This so closely resembles what happens when mass unsolicited mail and posts take over mailing lists and net news groups that the term has been pushed into common usage in the Internet community."

Source:

http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc2635

You can see that the term “spam spam spam spam spam” is so repetitive, and that mass unsolicited commercial or bulk email is so repetitive with no concern for the target of the mail that the term “spam” stuck.  Spam is repetitive – ubiquitous might be a better choice of terms – and so the name caught on.

Email spam should not be confused with the SPAM product, a meat dish created by the Hormel company based in Minnesota.  SPAM is a copyrighted name by the company and while their official position is that they don’t particularly care to be associated with UBE, they put up with it.  The average person is smart enough to tell the electronic version from the meat product.  So, when you say you get SPAM in your inbox, you probably mean you got spam.  I started off my career in anti-abuse as a spam analyst, not a SPAM analyst.  The latter would get pretty boring after a couple of weeks.

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