Monday, 8 February 2016

What is Spam for English people?

You've heard of spam right? Every student I've asked always says the same thing: 'e-mails that go straight to the junk folder'. Guess what! My students are absolutely correct.

Spam is the name of those annoying emails you get from companies offering all sorts of rubbish that you don't want.

If you ask an English or American person, however, you may get a different answer. Yes it still relates to email, but there is a secondary reference: Processed ham. That's right! It's also a sort tinned ham that you can buy in a supermarket. 'Ham in a can' if you like. Go on, Google the word now and the images that will come up will include this ham.

So how did spam come to be the name for both emails and ham? Is it just random?

No, it's connected, and this is where we start talking about etymology: the story of the history and origin of words.

During the Second World War times were very difficult in England. There was a lack of food, but one thing that was available was Spam, and there was a lot of it! Even after the war, people ate a lot of Spam, so much so that people got very sick and tired, fed up of eating just Spam all the time that it is no longer popular. People now associate it with bad times in our history.

One comedy group in England called Monty Python used this historical fact to make a joke about Spam and you can see it in the video below. The idea was two people going into a cafe and everything included Spam, just like after the war.

Finally, the people who named the email were big fans of Monty Python and remembered the annoying song and video and therefore named the emails Spam. This again goes to show how language is not just words, it is culture and if you truly want to know a language you have to embrace more than just a dictionary. Enjoy your lives.

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