Date: Tue, 12 Sep 1995 09:28:14 -0700
From: David Harnick-Shapiro david[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]BUCKAROO.ICS.UCI.EDU
Subject: Re: Internet Term Stumper (fwd)
On Mon, 11 Sep 1995 22:34, Daniel S Goodman forwarded:
I hope I don't get spammed for this, but does anyone know how the
term 'spamming' got coined for mass e-mailing?
I checked the Internet books that are available in my library, but
spamming is not mentioned.
THE source for computer-related slang is the "Jargon file"; while
not the work of trained lexicologists, at least native speakers tend
to agree with its pronouncements. And it says:
spam vt. [from "Monty Python's Flying Circus"] 1. To crash a
program by overrunning a fixed-size buffer with excessively
large input data. See also buffer overflow, overrun screw, smash
the stack. 2. To cause a newsgroup to be flooded with
irrelevant or inappropriate messages. You can spam a newsgroup
with as little as one well- (or ill-) planned message (e.g.
asking "What do you think of abortion?" on soc.women). This is
often done with cross-posting (e.g. any message which is
crossposted to alt.rush-limbaugh and alt.politics.homosexuality
will almost inevitably spam both groups).
The second definition has become much more prevalent as the
Internet has opened up to non-techies, and to many Usenetters it
is probably now (1995) primary. .
(I happened to look at the copy at
http://www.fwi.uva.nl/~mes/jargon/s/spam.html; as far as I am aware, the
original is somewhere at MIT. Now here's quality scholarship for you! :-)
I actually first heard the term used to describe intentionally flooding
someone's mailbox with nuisance email (a sense which is clearly related
to those given above). Further, it was clear that this sense always
implied the activity was done as a form of vigilante justice.
Oh, and if the etymology is a little unclear to non-Python fans: there
is a skit in one of the Monty Python episodes where a couple in a
restaurant, attempting to discuss their order, are repeatedly interrupted
and overwhelmed by a chorus of Vikings singing "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam!
Wonderful Spam, Lovely Spam!...".
David Harnick-Shapiro Information and Computer Science
david[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]ics.uci.edu University of California, Irvine