In 1937 the Hormel Food Co. launched a competition to find a name for a canned meat product. Apparently the company didn’t want to call it ‘pork loaf ’ (though that’s what it was) and was not permitted to call it ham because the meat was shoulder, rather than hindquarter. A prize of $100 was to be made available to a name the firm approved.
Kenneth Daigneau from NewYork came up with the name Spam – a condensed version of spiced ham – but without claiming it to be actual ham.
Thirty-three years later the British comedy group Monty Python’s Flying Circus performed a bizarre television sketch in which a run-down café served only ludicrous variations of Spam. The customers’ indignation climaxed in a ridiculous song whose lyrics consisted simply of the word Spam repeated.
The sketch was first broadcast on 15 December 1970. Its popularity, and the association of spam with something unwanted but in over-supply, is credited with the word coming to mean junk email.
(There is no truth in the rumour that the title of the original Hormel tinned Spam was an acronym for ‘Something posing as meat’.)
From Who Said That First? by Max Cryer
P.S. Monty Python to reunite for live one-off show in London.
In the introduction to Curious English Words and Phrases Max Cryer likens the English language to ‘a vast and ancient city’ magnificent, interesting and shambolic. An explanation of the origin of the last surprising adjective in his metaphor follows.
This is derived from ‘shambles’, which is a modern version of an old Latin word for a bench or table. In English it came to mean the table used by butchers for chopping beasts into portions. Shambles therefore became the word for a slaughterhouse or a place where meat was prepared.
An historic part of York is still called The Shambles, from the time when butchers’ shops were located there. And because meat preparation is always messy, the word shambles came to mean disorder, and a floppy, disorganised way of walking was called ‘a shamble’ because the legs were all over the place (like an animal’s legs on a butcher’s table).
But shamble(s) remained a noun until some bright spark turned it into an adjective and said, ‘This is a shambolic state of affairs.’ A new word was born.
From Curious English Words and Phrases by Max Cryer.