Spam is an aspect of modern life that is ubiquitous yet oddly underdiscussed. Partly that’s because most email programs do a decent job of blocking it these days. In fact, for me, by far the most annoying thing about spam is when I realize I missed an important email message because, for some reason, it ended up in my spam folder. The second most annoying thing is those weird spammy websites that you occasionally stumble upon via an internet search engine, that consist of garbled, seemingly random bits of text.

What is up with those spammy websites, anyway? You’ll find the answer to that, and more, in Scott McLemee’s review of what sounds like a fascinating new academic book on the history of spam. McLemee notes that anywhere between two-thirds and 90% of all email messages are estimated to be spam, and that the history of spam goes back at least four decades. His review gratifyingly confirms what I always assumed but never bothered to look up: that the term “spam” originates from the classic Monty Python sketch about that unappetizing stuff in a can.

N.B.: if you’re unfamiliar with McLemee’s wonderful Intellectual Affairs column for Inside Higher Ed, I strongly encourage you to check it out. He’s one of the best book critics in the business — a witty, elegant, never boring writer with the intellectual chops that, impressively, equip him to handle academic books covering a wide range of subjects.

And, oh all right, since I mentioned it, and because I’ve been a Python fan since forever, here is their famous Spam sketch. Enjoy!

YouTube video

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Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee