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Listen to Professor Crystal

Technology always has an influence on language. When printing came in, it brought new words into the language. When broadcasting first started new words came into the language. And now the internet has come along so it’s not surprising that quite a large number of new words have come into English vocabulary since, especially the last 10 years really since the world wide web came into being. And of course if you’ve got emails, and most people have these days, then you will have encountered the word Spam. Spam flooding your email box with ads or other unwanted messages. But why the word Spam for this sort of thing?

Spam was originally a tinned meat back in the 1930s, a brand name for a particular kind of cold meat. But it became very fashionable when Monty Python, the satirical television comedy series back in the 70s and 80s they had a sketch where just for fun they had spam with every item on the restaurant menu - bacon and spam, egg and spam, ham and spam, spam and spam. Spam spam spam spam… and they actually sang a song about it and it caught on.

And therefore it became a real part of the language meaning any unwanted material of any kind and so when the internet came along it wasn’t surprising really that spam became part of that kind of experience. And the evidence that it’s become part of the language is not just because of the noun spam which you might expect to see in the internet context but because it’s generated other kinds of linguistic expression as well.

You’ve now got verbs based upon it, and adjectives based upon it. You can now have ‘I’ve been spammed’ or ‘somebody’s spamming me’ and the actual people who do the work themselves who send all these horrible emails out to everybody so that we’re flooded with these things, what are they called? Well there’s a new noun, they’re called ‘spammers’.


download transcriptTranscript (pdf - 42k)

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download audioAudio - Professor David Crystal on "Spam" (mp3 - 1.12mb)
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