Friday, June 15, 2012


I don’t think it comes as a surprise when I say that I love Monty Python. My highest viewed blog post was actually the one about the Spanish Inquisition, no doubt because I mentioned Monty Python and used one of their images (the power of SEO at work).

However, I know that when a joke is overdone it can lose its charm, so I was not looking for another way to incorporate the British comedy into my blog. But last week, SPAM® and Monty Python both found me, and I learned something I just could not resist sharing.

While I was reading the book Digital Advertising by Andrew McStay last week and McStay claims the unwanted email messages were dubbed “spam” because of the Monty Python SPAM® sketch.

“Although most commonly associated with email, the expression spam also applies to internet forums, mobile, instant messaging, posting within blogs and unwanted advertisements within newsgroups. The term probably derives from a Monty Python comedy sketch where every item in a cafĂ© comes with spam (a type of tinned meat).” (McStay, Digital Advertising (England, 2010), 47.)

I have quoted Monty Python before, I have had professors who referenced Monty Python in class lectures, but I have never read someone who linked Monty Python to a term that we use daily. It was just too good not to comment further on. If you have not seen the sketch, click this link to view the short sketch yourself.

My interest was peaked so I decided to see what I could find about the history of the lunchmeat SPAM®. In all honesty I didn’t find much, which was a little disappointing. If I’ve gained anything from this post, other than an awesome random fact, it's a pressing desire to actually try SPAM®.

According to McStay, SPAM® was one of the few meats excluded from the UK food rationing policy during World War II and the years beyond. For this reason, the British people grew heartily tired of it, which is where the humor of the Monty Python sketch came from.

SPAM® was first sold in 1937 as a quality canned lunchmeat. It was the first of its kind, and by 1940, 40 million pounds of SPAM® had been sold. During WWII Hormel Foods provided 15 million cans of the luncheon meat to the troops every week and over time SPAM® lunchmeat became an essential item in the soldiers’ diets.

As marketers began exploiting email and the Internet, the word spam became synonymous with unwanted advertising messages. SPAM® fought the use of its name, but eventually dismissed the trademark hearing and required that writers simply use their trademark when referring to their lunchmeat so readers could tell the difference.

Who would have thought Monty Python would play such an important role in our everyday vocabulary? As always, happy history!