Spam – What Is It And Why Is It Still Here?

If you use email then it is extremely likely that you receive junk email on an alarmingly regular basis.

Do you know why it is sent and why it is called ‘spam’?



It may be an urban legend but the popular belief is that a British comedy act, Monty Python, coined the phrase ‘spam’ in one of their sketches back in 1970, despite the fact that email did not exist at that time.

The sketch, seen below, plays out in a cafe where the patrons can have anything they want.

As long as it includes spam.

Importantly, there are ‘Vikings’ in the background who loudly sing a song about spam every time the member of staff tries to talk to the customers, thereby ‘spamming’ the conversation –

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Later, when unsolicited or junk email became a growing problem, it became known as spam because it flooded inboxes and therefore interrupted the access of messages that the recipient really did want to read.

In 1998, the dictionary added the following definition to the word spam: “Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users.”


Unsolicited mail is not a product of the internet age however.

Back in the 19th century, for example, unsolicited junk telegrams were a regular problem and, when the postal service became cheaper to use, there was an exponential growth in the amount of junk leaflets and advertising material being posted.

Prior to spam becoming the scourge of email inboxes around the world it raised it’s head in other guises upon the internet.

In fact, it is believed that the very first unsolicited electronic message sent for commercial gain was back in 1978.

In the 1980s the internet was developing and growing but email was obviously nowhere near as popular or widespread as it is now.

Therefore, spammers resided on message boards and chat rooms and bombarded both with commercial messages, much as they still do today to a lesser degree.

Back then such annoyances were referred to as ‘flooding’ or ‘trashing’ but were soon renamed as ‘spamming’.

Spam continues to evolve with technology and so is not limited to the email any more.

You are also just as likely to receive such messages via instant messaging services, voicemail and SMS text messages.
If spam is so annoying to the majority of people who use the internet and email, why does it continue to exist?

Even though technology offers spam filters which are adept at removing almost all spam from view, over 12 million such messages are still sent every day.

It is estimated that well over 40% of all the email sent over the internet is spam and this figure is growing at an alarming rate.

It is believed that the average person receives over 2,500 spam emails per year! (I wish I received that few a number)

Spammers send thousands of junk emails at a time using bulk email clients, hoping that a few will get through spam blockers.

The cost of sending email in this manner is almost nil and so a huge failure rate is no barrier to success.

Spam is a tremendous waste of time and space for all those that receive it but it is indeed successful for those who are behind it – here’s 6 reasons why spam is so successful.

Avoiding spam completely is an impossible task but email providers are becoming increasinly adept at filtering it away from legitimate messages.

Do you hate spam, or, are you a spammer yourself?

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.


  1. Spam was actually a style of canned meat that was (and still is) commonly available from supermarkets in the UK, it was reknowned for being a very versatily food substance and was often served sliced and fried with the 1970s “english breakfast” in many greasy spoon type cafes, hence the Monty Python skit, portraying the availability of Spam with anything.

  2. Spam exists because there’s money to be made from it. Plain and simple. I’ve read somewhere that less than 0,1% of people actualy buys stuff through spam mails. I may be a little off on numbers but due to the ammount of spam sent every day this 0,1% actualy brings enouh money for spammers to continue what they’re doing.

    • You are absolutely 100% correct Domy – it may be ineffective in terms of responses but still offers huge ROI nonetheless.


  1. […] don’t know what the original intent of the hoax was but in this day and age of phishing and spam I certainly wouldn’t recommend giving out your email address to strangers, and especially […]

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