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; 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] University of California, Irvine