Why Is it Called Spam? The Meat and the Mail

(Last Updated On: December 29, 2022)

Whether or not you’re thinking of junk mail or the canned meat, the word “spam” is probably a bit strange in your mouth. It also just… feels kind of right. If you’ve ever prepared spam before (the food, not the junk mail), the name does just feel appropriate, we suppose. As for the mail… Well junk mail sent by robots trying to get you to subscribe to things really is the “weird meat” of the emails we guess. Anyway, why is it called spam anyway? Both kinds. 

Further Reading: What Is Spam Made Of? And Other Spam Facts

Luncheon Meat Came First

Given that email didn’t start kicking around until 1971, and Spam (the product) started kicking around in 1937, you’re probably not surprised to find out the meat product came long before the dumb emails you won’t stop getting. 

Spam, the meat, was first made by the Hormel Foods Corporation in 1937—which really does sound like the name for a corporation that makes ambiguous canned mystery meat. Anyway, Spam was popularized following WWII since it’s super cheap and lasts forever. While good for being in a can and having something accessible to eat, these qualities have also raised… a lot of health concerns around Spam

But you’re here because you asked “why is it called Spam?” Spam is basically a can of pork with a bunch of preservatives in it. Funnily enough, while emails are spam because they’re unwanted mail, Spam was created because the Hormel Foods Corporation wanted something to do with unwanted meat. Specifically, unprofitable pork shoulder. 

The company also has a Spam Museum, which is weird, but at least they give us the story of why they called their unwanted canned meat “Spam.” The name “Spam” is supposed to be a portmanteau of “spiced ham.” 

Your Email

We all know what inbox spam is, and we all hate it. Mass solicitation long predates the term “spam,” and the first instance of it actually predates the meat too. The telegram served as the basis for the first mass message, when in 1864 British politicians got a telegram advertising some dentist. 

Once the internet rolled around, mass messages were used to advertise some computers in 1978. Mass messages were again in 1994 when some immigration lawyers blew up a bunch of inboxes to advertise their services. This became known as the “Green Card Spam” and is often credited as the first major commercial spamming incident.

The term “spam” for junk mail comes from a 1970 Monty Python sketch. They make fun of how ubiquitous Spam is (the meat this time) and how it’s basically everywhere. 

Inbox spam plagued Usenet for a long time, well before “spam” entered the popular lexicon. The first instance we could find of “spam” being used to describe inbox spam dates back to March 31, 1993 when Joel Furr (a Usenet personality) posted about a program called ARMM leading to spam

See if you know what’s in that can of Spam here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.