1998-05-07 - RE: [OFF TOPIC] Spam

Header Data

From: “Trei, Peter” <ptrei@securitydynamics.com>
To: “‘StanSqncrs’” <cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 61be337b8c3df890474eb2e1afc062a342b6a1c21aab563522cb702fdebee358
Message ID: <6B5344C210C7D011835C0000F8012766017A75DD@exna01.securitydynamics.com>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1998-05-07 14:41:06 UTC
Raw Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 07:41:06 -0700 (PDT)

Raw message

From: "Trei, Peter" <ptrei@securitydynamics.com>
Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 07:41:06 -0700 (PDT)
To: "'StanSqncrs'" <cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: RE: [OFF TOPIC] Spam
Message-ID: <6B5344C210C7D011835C0000F8012766017A75DD@exna01.securitydynamics.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

[Trei, Peter]  stanSqncrs [SMTP:StanSqncrs@aol.com] wrote:

>Apparently only as far back as 1993, the definition of the
>word "spam" from the on-line jargon file was this (according
>to the New Hackers Dictionary) -

>spam [from the MUD community] vt. To crash a program by
>over-running a fixed- size buffer with excessively large
>input data.  See also Buffer Overflow, Overrun Screw, Smash
>the Stack.

>Obviously that definition has changed since then.  I've seen
>it go from that to repetitive commercial advertising, and
>I've seen it used to brand someone as an outcast of a list
>for future removal simply because a small minority didn't
>like what that person had said (so it was being used at that
>time to mean 'objectional material').

>And in all the times I've seen the word fly, there has never
>been anykind of volume that would come close to overblowing
>the forum's mechanical capabilities.

>So, I'm curious as to who/what dictated the meaning of that
>to change so drasticly.  Write me in private if it's
>off-subject (and yes, you can write me anonomously if you
>don't want a response. :-) )

How quickly they forget...

It's not a change of meaning; rather, it is a new branch off
of an earlier root meaning.

The ultimate root, is of course, Hormel's processed meat
product. I don't know how old that is but it goes back at
least to WW2.

The immediate root lies in a Monty Python sketch of the
early 70's.  The text may be found at
http://w3.informatik.gu.se/~dixi/spam.htm (don't miss the
sound clip.) It takes place in a cafe, where almost every
menu item includes Spam. As a waitress reads the menu to
some patrons ("egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon
sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam
spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam
tomato and spam..." etc), a group of Vikings at the next
table start to sing:

"Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam"
"Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!"
"Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!"

(repeat endlessly)


At certain science fiction conventions in the late 70's and
early 80's it became a tradition for groups of fans (to whom
the Pythons were minor deities) to parade en mass through
the corridors of convention hotels singing the Spam Song.
Many online fen were also active in early MUDs, so the term
came to be used for unwanted, repetitive, voluminous, and
content-free input of all kinds.


Flash forward to April 14, 1994. 

The WWW is not on most peoples radar yet; it's still the Age
of Usenet. 

Cantor & Siegel, a pair of shysters, figure out that they
can advertise their dubious 'services' (charging $100 for
information which the government gives out for free) at no
cost on usenet.  Like many lawyers, they suffer from a
mental disorder which leads them to believe that any action
which is not explicitly against the law is reasonable and
appropriate.  They send their ad to over 5000 newsgroups,
regardless of topic.

In those days, many netusers read multiple newsgroups every
morning. That day, every newsgroup you opened included the
same article in the subject list, along with dozens of angry
denouncments of the off-topic post.

*Every* *single* *newsgroup*.

The resemblance to the menu at the Python cafe was
unmistakeable, and 'spam' was the term instantly adopted to
describe the practice.

Since then, the use of the term 'spam' has been expanded to
refer to any sort of off-topic and undesired information
sent over the net, especially when a shotgun approach is

Question: When was the *first* spam type message? I remember
in the early 80's a student spammed Usenet, asking for small
donations to help him meet tuition. Are there any earlier

Peter Trei