Saturday, 28 April 2012

Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam (and just a few baked beans)

My post today is about spam.

We all know what it is. We all hate it. All those annoying ads and emails for watches and pills and Russian brides and other things that this blog is much too clean to begin talking about. Not to mention the very worst form of spam of all - the never-ending "buy my book, buy my book" of all those self-published authors out there.

But how many of you out there actually know the origin of the term? Why on earth do we use the name of a type of tinned ham to refer to unsolicited and unwanted electronic communications?

Well, if you don't know the answer, today is your lucky day. Because Dag-Lit Central is not just a source for entertainment. We also aim to be educational. So now, I present to you, the actual video clip which inspired the use of the word "spam" to refer to any and all unwelcome electronic intrusions. Enjoy.

Of course, this is Monty Python doing their spam sketch - this sketch provided the inspiration for the term "spamming", referring to the overwhelming of any type of conversation with useless gibberish, and the word "spam" to refer to that gibberish.

You have to admit it. There is some kind of genius at work here. Who else could come up with an idea like a cafe that serves dishes containing little else apart from spam, into which people are lowered into their chairs via ropes, and which is full of singing Vikings. Where ideas like that come from, I have no idea.

But the thing that really gets me about this whole story is how something that was created several decades ago has evolved and adapted in such a way that it has now become part of our popular culture and lexicon. I think that's an amazing thing.

Like any writer, I often wonder whether anything I create could end up taking on a similar life of its own. Maybe one day, people will say they are having a Neville Lansdowne moment when they feel that things are happening too quickly for them. Or political commentators may describe a particularly pointless debate as "3 points vs 4 points", just like the Flidderbugs. I reckon that would make my day.

Then again, it most likely won't ever happen - or if it did, it would be in a way I would never be able to predict, just as the Monty Python people couldn't have known the result of their extremely silly and possibly quite pointless spam sketch.

So, till next time, have a spam spam spam fantastic spam week.



  1. It goes without saying that I’m a long-time fan of Monty Python so, yes, I knew where the expression ‘spam’ came from. God alone knows how many times I’ve seen the sketch. I expect I first saw it when it was first broadcast in 1970. My parents—like most parents I would imagine—didn’t get what Python was all about but it pleased me that, some thirty years later, when I played him an audio recording of the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch (my dad was born in Lancashire—different colour rose) he got it! But that was the only one.

    When I was about nineteen or twenty I rewrote the ‘Cheese Shop’ sketch and my mate and I recorded it. The only real difference was I set it in a Jobcentre. Chedder became labour, Wensleydale (the counter assistant) became Porter who ends up getting shot at the end of the sketch so that the applicant can take his job. Worked quite well. Can’t remember how I handled the runny cheese but I expect I made the Camembert some job that involved running, an athlete or a runner. Of course there have been other nods to it but the one I remember best was in the second series of The Young Ones: Alexei Sayle rushes into a shop (while performing a silly walk), and asks if it’s a cheese shop. Rik Mayall replies, "No, sir," to which Sayle responds, "Well, that's that sketch knackered then, innit?"

    Actually I get very little spam. I don’t think I have especially good spam filters. I just don’t think I’m on people’s radar. It’s been years put it that way since any Nigerian prince asked me for money.

    Finished my review of Magnus Opum by the way. More of an essay than a straight review but I’m waiting on Carrie checking it.

    1. Hi Jim,

      Not surprised to see we share a sense of humour. My early attempts at comedy writing were also largely rewrites of Monty Python sketches.

      Also loved The Young Ones.