February 04, 2004


It is the year 2104, and you are looking up a word in the dictionary---not to find out what it means, because everyone knows that---but to find its etymology. You look it up and find

1ham n [ME hamme, fr. OE hamm...] ...

No, that's not the one you want. You skim down past the various senses of this word to its homograph:

2ham n a message or transmission with non-commercial purpose ...

Ah, that's the one! Now, what exactly is its etymology?

  • From spam, meaning "an unsolicited (and undesired) message or transmission, usu. with commercial purpose", by analogy between the first homograph of ham and an earlier, mostly obsolete definition of spam
  • ...from the title of a comedic sketch and song by British comedy troupe Monty Python, "Spam, spam, spam"
  • ...from the brand name of a processed meat food product, Spam
  • ...from a contraction of the words "spiced ham".

Are etymologies normally allowed to trace back around to themselves?

And lest you think this is some obscure bit of techno-jargon, this article on the BBC uses the word ham without so much as a definition. Awesome.

"The buffet table is properly set so that it would form an attractive pattern if viewed by a guest hanging from the chandelier." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 4:16pm on 4 Feb 2004
Valid XHTML 1.0!