There was a time when SPAM, a canned precooked meat product, was a staple of the soldier’s diet and a popular food item around the world in the 1940s. Hormel Foods Corporation introduced the product in 1937, in the middle of America’s Great Depression (1929-1941), when fresh meat was too expensive and difficult to obtain (partly due to food rations). SPAM is essentially a unique combination of pork shoulder meat, with ham meat added, water, salt, sugar, modified potato starch as a binder, and sodium nitrite (a preservative). The gelatin that one sees upon opening the can is formed when the meat mixture is cooked on the production line.
The product was named SPAM by Kenneth Daigneau, an actor and brother of the vice president of Hormel, who won the $100 prize to name the product. SPAM is an acronym of Shoulder of Pork And Ham. Several backronyms have been suggested for SPAM: “Specially Processed American Meat,” “Specialized Processed Army Meat” and “SPecial Army Meat.” While many consumers referred to SPAM as “mystery meat,” U.S. Army soldiers referred to it as “meatloaf without basic training;” on the other hand, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher graciously referred to it as a “wartime delicacy.” De gustibus non est disputandum.
Fast forward to the 1970s, when the cheeky Monty Python’s Flying Circus wrote a hilarious skit where a man (Eric Idle) and wife (Graham Chapman in drag) enter a cafe and try to order a meal that does not contain SPAM (the wife repeatedly asserts: “I don’t want any SPAM!”). Unfortunately, everything on the menu contains SPAM. For example: egg and SPAM; egg, bacon, sausage, and SPAM. In a classic Monty Python nonsequitor, a nearby group of Vikings break into the zany, but memorable, SPAM song: SPAM, SPAM, SPAM… Wonderful SPAM!… SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, Lovely SPAM!” Who knew Vikings were such aficionadoes?
A decade later, computer geeks began playing games in real time multi-person shared environments (known as a multi-user-dungeon or MUD), precursors to games like EverQuest, World of Warcraft, and Sims. But MUD users, in addition to creating objects and playing games, also used it to chat, so the MUD was also the precursor to chat rooms. It didn’t take long for some users to begin abusing the platform. Of course, since many geeks were huge Monty Python fans, they made the connection between the SPAM song (a metaphor for something that is repetitious and hence very annoying) and certain MUD behaviors that were now referred to as “SPAM.” Early examples of SPAM included flooding a computer with so much data that it would cause the computer to crash, or flooding a chat session with computer generated random text or endless repetition of the word “SPAM.”
The abuses on MUD eventually migrated to the Usenet (established in 1980), the precursor to the internet. Usenet, essentially a digital bulletin board system without a central server, was used for posts and emails. Mischievous programmers would write code that would send an email to every newsgroup (message board) on the Usenet. By the 1990s, the term SPAM became the most common term for unwanted mass postings or junk email.
Incidentally, the countries where most of the SPAM originates are China (24%), South Korea (15%), United States (12%), and Russia (10%). Spammers use a number of approaches to strike unsuspecting online users: bypassing spam filters (using symbols rather than words in subject line), offering medical cures too good to be true, hot trending topics, and phishing (pretending to be from reputable sites or social networks). Wonderful SPAM!
For further reading: http://www.templetons.com/brad/spamterm.html