Words at Play : Top 10 Words from Trademarks, Vol. 2

#4: Spam

How did an old trademarked name for a canned meat develop the sense of "unsolicited, usually commercial e-mail sent to a large number of addresses"? Popularity, technology, and comedy.

Back in the 1930s, Hormel Foods held a contest to name its new luncheon meat. The winning contestant (the brother of a Hormel Foods vice-president) dubbed the spiced ham Spam.

Spam was a hit. By the end of WWII, 100 million pounds of it had been sent to allied troops.

Then, in 1970, the British comedy troupe Monty Python's Flying Circus performed a sketch in which the dialogue, mostly about Spam, is obscured by the chanting ("Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam") of Vikings.

Inspired by that relentless chant, early e-mail users bestowed the word on the growing clutter in their in-boxes.

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