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From The Writer’s Almanac 7-5-09
It was on this day in 1937 that SPAM came onto the market. The canned meat product from Hormel Foods Corporation was given its name by a contest winner; the prize for his ingenuity was $100. On one occasion, a Hormel spokesperson said the name was short for ‘Shoulder of Pork and Ham’; on another, a company official said it was a conflation of the words ‘spice and ham.’ All sorts of parodic acronyms have circulated over the years, including ‘Something Posing As Meat.’ The original recipe, still sold as the ‘Classic’ flavor, contains pork shoulder and ham meat, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrate. There’s a gelatinous glaze on top, which forms like that after the broth cools down.
Spam sold in the Americas is mostly produced in Austin, Minnesota — ‘Spam Town USA’ and home of the SPAM museum. Hawaii’s residents consume more Spam per capita than the residents of any other state, and the canned meat has been nicknamed ‘The Hawaiian Steak.’ Spam is the main course in the Israeli Defense Force’s combat meal kits, but the pork is replaced by beef so that it’s kosher.
There’s a Monty Python sketch that came out in 1970 where the actors go into a cafe; and try to order breakfast, but almost everything on the menu contains Spam. One woman doesn’t want Spam in her breakfast and gets into an argument with the waitress, who tells her that the menu consists of ‘Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam, Spam, and Spam.’ It’s from this Monty Python sketch that ‘spam’ acquired the use so familiar today: unwanted or unsolicited e-mail. The first recorded use of the word in this way is in 1993. It’s also become a verb in the English language, for the action of sending out spam.
And the word ‘spam’ itself, untranslated, is now a noun in French, Portuguese, and Vietnamese. The verb ‘to spam’ in German is ‘spammen’; in Czech the verb is ‘spamovat’; and in Italian it’s ‘spammare.’ There’s a new Monty Python’s musical, SPAMALOT, currently playing in San Francisco.
And now, for our word of the day:
Spam. noun, verb, spammed, spamming.
1. Trademark. a canned food product consisting esp. of pork formed into a solid block.
–noun 2. (lowercase) a disruptive, esp. commercial message posted on a computer network or sent as e-mail.
–verb (used with object) 3. (lowercase) to send spam to.
–verb (used without object) 4. (lowercase) to send spam.
Origin: (def. 1) sp(iced) + (h)am; 1990–95; referring to a comedy routine on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Brit. TV series.
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Sources: The Writer’s Almanac, dictionary.com
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