10 reasons why spam is actually kind of interesting

Spam. Those pointless, highly annoying junk messages that keep showing up in your inbox. Sadly enough, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting rid of spam anytime soon, so in the meantime, here are some interesting facts you probably didn’t know about those pesky electronic messages everyone loves to hate.

  • Back in 1864… Spam dates back to the 19th century. Western Union allowed telegraphic messages to be sent to multiple destinations. It didn’t take long before someone figured out the potential and in May 1864 the first unsolicited mass commercial telegrams started showing up.
  • The origin of the name. The term spam is most likely derived from a 1970 Monty Python sketch. The sketch takes place in a cafe where everything on the menu includes SPAM meat and a chorus of Vikings drown out conversation by repeatedly singing “SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM… lovely SPAM, wonderful SPAM”, SPAMming the dialogue.
  • Backronyms. There are a couple of false backronyms for spam: Shit Posing As Mail, and Stupid Pointless Annoying Messages.
  • SPAM luncheon meat. The maker of the SPAM luncheon meat (Hormel Foods Corporation) doesn’t object to the term “spam”. They have however asked that the capitalized version of the word (i.e. SPAM) is reserved for their product and trademark. So… spam is spam, but SPAM is luncheon meat.
  • Green Card spam. The first big commercial “spam incident” on the Internet happened in 1994 when two lawyers (a husband and wife team) started using bulk Usenet postings to advertise immigration law services. It became known as the “Green Card spam”. In spite of widespread condemnation, the attorneys claimed that free speech gave them the right to send out unwanted commercial messages and labeled their opponents as hypocrites and anti-commerce radicals. They later wrote a book called “How to Make a Fortune on the Information Superhighway”.
  • Amount of spammers. About 80% of all email spam is sent by fewer than 200 spammers.
  • Percentage of email. 80-85% of all email is estimated to be spam, although some sources estimate it to be as much as 95%.
  • Top sources of spam. In terms of volume, the major sources of spam in the last quarter of 2008 were: 1. United States (19.8%), 2. China (9.9%), 3. Russia (6.4%), 4. Brazil (6.3%), 5. Turkey (4.4%).
  • McColo. When hosting provider McColo, known for hosting many spammers and botnet operators, was taken down in November of 2008, spam dropped a massive 50-75% across the Internet. Unfortunately spam levels were back to normal just a couple of weeks later as the spammers migrated their servers to other places.
  • Different names for spam. Different kinds of spam often get their own nicknames. Spam over IM is referred to as “spim” (spam + IM) and spam over SMS is sometimes referred to as “spasms” (coined by the adnews website Adland in 2000).

Source: Wikipedia entries about email spam and electronic spam.


  1. Hopefully, with better filters and people becoming more aware of what spam is, it’ll die down in the future as pop-ups have (to some extent).

  2. One learns useful tidbits watching Anthony Bourdain’s show. One is that spam is king in Hawaii. They even make sushi out of it there. Don’t believe me? Check this guy out.

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