Monday, November 30, 2009
Little SPAM, Who Made Thee?
The origin of the word SPAM, a trademark of the Hormel Foods Corporation for its brand of canned pork and spices, has always been cloaked in mystery. Hormel’s website disingenuously asks, “Does SPAM mean ‘spiced ham’?” and then coyly answers: “While some speculate the name came from mashing the two words together, SPAM family of products has come to mean so much more…the term ‘spiced ham’ simply doesn’t paint the right picture of what a can of SPAM Classic really is. So in the end SPAM means SPAM.” Huh?
To set the record straight, I cite an unimpeachable source, who requested anonymity on the grounds that she was speaking with her mouth full of SPAM. The product first appeared in the 1930s as “Hormel Spiced Ham.” Ingredients listed on the can were chopped pork shoulder meat with ham meat added, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrite. Mmm, good! One problem, however: anything labeled “ham” must consist entirely of meat from a pig’s hindquarters. A new name was desperately needed.
At a New Year’s Eve party fun-loving company president Jay Hormel staged a contest for guests to come up with a name for the lunch meat. The winner was the actor Kenneth Daigneau, best known, if at all, for two Broadway flops (When in Rome and The Love Set). He was no doubt glad to get a hundred dollars for suggesting SPAM, which at the time was said to be an acronym derived from “Shoulder of Pork And haM.”
Years later, in a skit on "Monty Python’s Flying Circus," chanting of the word Spam drowned out all the other dialogue, and hence the name was subsequently applied to unwanted email. The new usage has been gamely accepted by Hormel in this statement issued with a noticeably forced smile:
"We do not object to use of this slang term, although…it should be used in all lower-case letters to distinguish it from our trademark SPAM, which should be used with all upper-case letters….Children will be exposed to the slang term 'spam' to describe unwanted commercial e-mail well before being exposed to our famous product SPAM. Ultimately, we are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, 'Why would Hormel Foods name its product after junk e-mail?'"
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who has been called both a ham and a turkey, found these lines in Dr. Seuss’s wastebasket:
I do not like a can of SPAM,
I do not like it cooked with yam,
I do not like it smeared with jam,
I do not like it served with lamb,
I do not like it with a clam,
I do not like one ounce, one gram,
I much prefer green eggs and ham.