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