A lot of my students assume that “spam” stands for something in the same way that WWW stands for World Wide Web or IBM stands for International Business Machines, and in a way they are right. SPAM stands for Spiced Ham (or possibly Shoulder of Pork & Ham – the product was introduced in the 1930’s, and the manufacturer can’t remember exactly where the name came from!)
A Can of SPAM
The origin of the name of the canned meat is easy to understand, but what has that got to do with junk e-mail? The connection is a little bit more complicated…
Soon after SPAM (the manufacturer likes it to be written entirely in capital letters) was introduced, it became a popular food for the American Army. It was light; could stay fresh for a long time; could be eaten raw; and came in a square can, which made it easy to pack. (This is why SPAM is so popular in places like Guam, Hawaii, & Okinawa. The big American Army bases that are located on these islands sell their stocks of SPAM before they get old, making it a cheap meat in those markets.)
After the Second World War, Britain was very, very poor. Most fresh vegetables, fruit, & meat were rationed [carefully controlled by the government]. The only meat that was easy for Britons to get was SPAM. SPAM became a common menu item, especially in cheap restaurants, like roadside diners. Long after rationing was stopped, SPAM was still the number one meat in these types of restaurants.
In the late 60’s early 70’s, the comedy troupe [a group of performers] Monty Python became very popular in Britain, and eventually the world. (It could still be argued that they are the world’s most popular comedians!) One of their most famous sketches made fun of how common SPAM was in British restaurants. In the sketch, a couple are ordering breakfast at a roadside diner. As they are reading through the menu with the waitress, the other customers – all Vikings! – start singing “SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM! SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM!” It’s quite strange.
Monty Python’s SPAM sketch – note the Vikings!
You can check out the sketch here; SPAM Sketch on Video
(Just by chance, the video has Japanese sub-titles – lucky, eh?)
You can download an MP3 of the sketch here; SPAM sketch on MP3
Also, you can read the entire sketch at the end of this entry
As the Internet & the use of e-mail became more common in the 80’s, people started getting unwanted junk messages in their inboxes. They jokingly called this junk “spam,” because it was there every time they went on line, time after time, just like the word “SPAM” in the famous comedy sketch. These days, the use of words like “spam filter,” “anti-spam,” & “spamming” is common. Next time you hear the word “spam,” remember that it owes its modern meaning to canned meat, 2 men in dresses, and a room full of Vikings!
By the way, reading this entry it might look like I can’t decide how to write “spam.” Actually, there’s a method to my madness; “SPAM” refers to the product, while “Spam” refers to canned meat in general, and “spam” refers to unwanted junk e-mail. So now you know!
Anyway, here is...
Monty Python’s SPAM Sketch
Cut to a café. All the customers are Vikings. Mr and Mrs Bun enter - downwards (on wires).
Mr Bun (Eric)
Waitress (Terry J)
What have you got, then?
Well there's egg and bacon; egg, sausage and bacon; egg and SPAM; egg, bacon and SPAM; egg, bacon, sausage and SPAM; SPAM, bacon, sausage and SPAM; SPAM, egg, SPAM, SPAM, bacon and SPAM; SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, egg and SPAM; SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, baked beans, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM and SPAM; or lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle pâté, brandy and a fried egg on top and SPAM.
Mrs Bun (Graham)
Have you got anything without SPAM in it?
Well there's SPAM, egg, sausage and SPAM. That's not got much SPAM in it.
I don't want any SPAM.
Why can't she have egg, bacon, SPAM and sausage?
That's got SPAM in it!
Not as much as SPAM, egg, sausage and SPAM.
Look, could I have egg, bacon, SPAM and sausage without the SPAM.
What d'you mean uuugggh! I don't like SPAM.
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM ... SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM ... lovely SPAM, wonderful SPAM ...
Brief stock shot of a Viking ship
Shut up. Shut up! Shut up! You can't have egg, bacon, SPAM and sausage without the SPAM.
No, it wouldn't be egg, bacon, SPAM and sausage, would it.
I dont like SPAM!
Don't make a fuss, dear. I'll have your SPAM. I love it. I'm having SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, , SPAM ...
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM ...
... baked beans, SPAM, SPAM and SPAM.
Baked beans are off.
Well can I have SPAM instead?
You mean SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM?
Vikings (still singing)
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM ... (etc.)
... lovely SPAM, wonderful, SPAM.
Shut up! Shut up!
The Vikings shut up momentarily. Enter the Hungarian.
Great boobies honeybun, my lower intestine is full of SPAM, egg, SPAM, bacon, SPAM, tomato, SPAM ...
Vikings (starting up again)
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM ...
A policeman rushes in and bundles the Hungarian out
My nipples explode ...
Cut to a historian
Superimposed caption: A HISTORIAN
Another great Viking victory was at the Green Midget café at Bromley. Once again the Viking strategy was the same. They sailed form these fiords here, (indicating a map with arrows on it) assembled at Trondheim and waited for the strong north-easterly winds to blow their oaken galleys to England whence they sailed on May 23rd. Once in Bromley they assembled in the Green Midget café and SPAM selecting a SPAM particular SPAM item from the SPAM menu would SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM ...
The backdrop behind him rises to reveal the café again. The Vikings start singing again and the historian conducts them.
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, lovely SPAM, wonderful SPAM. Lovely SPAM wonderful SPAM ...
Mr and Mrs Bun rise slowly into the air
Superimposed caption: IN 1970 MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS LAY IN RUINS, AND THEN THE WORD ON THE SCREEN SAID:
Fade out and roll credits, which read:
MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS
WAS CONCEIVED, WRITTEN AND SPAM PERFORMED BY
SPAM TERRY JONESMICHAEL SPAM PALIN
JOHN SPAM JOHN SPAM
JOHN SPAM CLEESE
GRAHAM SPAM SPAM
ERIC SPAM EGG ANDCHIPS IDLE
TERRY SPAM SAUSAGE SPAMEGG SPAM GILLIAM
ALSO APPEARING ON TOAST
THE FRED TOMLINSON SPAM EGGCHIPS AND SINGERS
RESEARCH PATRICIA HOULIHAN AND SAUSAGE
MAKE-UP PENNY PENNY PENNY AND SPAM NORTON
COSTUMES EGG BAKED BEANS SAUSAGE AND TOMATO, OH AND
HAZEL PETHIG TOO
ANIMATIONS BY TERRY (EGG ON FACE) GILLIAM
FILM CAMERAMAN JAMES (SPAM SAUSAGE EGG AND TOMATO)BALFOUR (NOT SUNDAYS)
FILM EDITOR RAY (FRIED SLICE AND GOLDEN THREE DELICIOUS)
MIILICHOPE (SPAM EXTRA)S
OUND CHIPS SAUSAGE LIVERWURST, PHEASANT, SPAM,
NEWSAGENTS, CHIPS, AND PETER ROSE
LIGHTING OTIS (SPAM'S OFF DEAR) EDDY
DESIGNER ROBERT ROBERT ROBERT ROBERT BERK AND TOMATO
PRODUCED BY IAN (MIXED GRILL) MACNAUGHTON 7/6d
BBC SPAM TV
SERVICE NOT INCLUDED
Voice over (Michael)
Haagbard Etheldronga and his Viking hordes are currently appearing in Grin and Pillage it at the Jodrell Theatre, Colwyn Bay. The Dirty Hungarian Phrase Book is available from Her Majesty's Stationery Office, price - a kiss in the bum.
Finally, here’s a link to a page that explains it all in Japanese