How the Word “Spam” Came To Mean Junk Email



Spam, spam, spam. It’s almost impossible to avoid. The average daily volume of email spam in the last month was 250 billion messages. That means spam email accounted for more than 85% of global email traffic. Where did we get the term spam from in the first place, and how did it begin being widely used? As a term for junk email, spam entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1998, and soon took over as the primary definition. It’s currently listed as a noun meaning, “unsolicited messages sent over the Internet.” There is, however, another definition in the dictionary: “a tinned meat product made mainly from ham.” Hormel Foods introduced Spam — luncheon meat that's a spiced meat made from shoulders of pork and ham — in 1937. No one really knows who coined the term in relation to email, but it began to be used in the 1980s, likening the “fake email” to SPAM’s occasional description as “fake meat.” As for Hormel, they’ve taken the joke well, releasing a statement saying, “While the association of our product with the Internet or e-mail ‘spam', including images, is in no way related, we strive to maintain a sense of humor around our iconic brand and enjoy consumers’ fun-loving appreciation of it.” You may never be entirely free of spam email, but at least you know where the term comes from now.