Sunday, December 31, 2006

December 31: Spam Day

On this date in the 1930s, Jay Hormel hosted a New Year's Eve party where he challenged his guests to create a name for his latest invention, a canned pork product.

On that night not only was a new year born, but also one of the most successful and most recognizable brand names in history came into being: Spam. The winning name was formed from the contraction of
sp(iced h)am; the winner of the contest was awarded $100.

Thanks to a sketch and song from Monty Python's Flying Circus, the word Spam lost its capital letter and became a lower case common noun referring to unsolicited e-mail. In the sketch, which first appeared in 1970, a waitress recites a list of menu items, all including Spam. As the menu is being recited, a song begins where male voices chant the word Spam more than 100 times. It's this seemingly endless, repetitive chant that inspired computer users to select spam as the appropriate appellation for unwanted, disruptive email (1).

Today's Challenge: New Year, New Words
At your New Year's Eve party challenge your guests to create a new word for the coming year. You might even offer cans of Spam as the award. To get your guests warmed up, give them the following challenge:

Each year the American Dialect Society selects a new word or phrase that best typifies the year just passed. The following list contains the Words of the Year for the past ten years, 1996 to 2005. See if you can match up each word with its correct year:


red state



millennium bug


soccer mom


e- (prefix as in e-mail)

weapons of mass destruction (1)

Quote of the Day: If variety is the spice of life, marriage is the big can of leftover Spam. --Johnny Carson

Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer. The Life of Language. New York: Random House, 2006.


9/11 - 2001
red state - 2004
metrosexual - 2003
truthiness -2005
millennium bug -1997
chad 2000
soccer mom 1996
Y2K 1999
e- (prefix as in e-mail) 1998
weapons of mass destruction 2002

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