SPAM®, spam or flappertanknibble: What’s in a name?


The first ever can of SPAM® was produced in 1937 by Hormel Foods in Austin, Minnesota, and they’re still going strong.

Hormel’s latest set of financial results, show that SPAM® continues to sell well seventy years later, and for most of that time they didn’t have to spend any effort making clear they weren’t connected with unsolicited junk email.

It’s important to make the distinction between spam and SPAM®. That’s one of the reasons why you’ll always find we never write “spam” in capitals when we’re talking about unsolicited commercial email. Another reason is that we’d hate companies to think we were somehow protecting their email gateways from canned precooked meat.

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I think the people who probably suffer most from this naming confusion are the marketing guys at Hormel. They must spend so much time googling the web, trying to find out what customers, analysts and journalists are saying about their product and keep uncovering complaints about spammed email instead.

No-one would expect Hormel to change the name of their most famous product though. Apparently, according to their SPAM® FAQ, the name was dreamt up by a chap called Ken who received a $100 prize for his efforts. Hormel says that we have to thank him that we’re not all eating Crinkycrinky or Canned Flappertanknibbles.

And just imagine that. Defending your email systems with an anti-flappertanknibble solution from Sophos.. No, that just sounds silly.

It’s a bit tricky after 30 years of spam to get the world to adopt a new word for unsolicited junk emails though. The word has become too widely accepted, and the chances of successfully getting a new word into circulation is zero.

Nevertheless, it could be fun to hear what you think a better word for spam would be. Leave a comment if you have any ideas on what an appropriate alternative word for email spam would be.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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