(redirected from junk e-mail)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Acronyms, Wikipedia.


Computing slang
unsolicited electronic mail or text messages
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


(computer science)
Unsolicited commercial e-mail.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


(From Hormel's Spiced Ham, via the Monty Python "Spam" song) To post irrelevant or inappropriate messages to one or more Usenet newsgroups, mailing lists, or other messaging system in deliberate or accidental violation of netiquette.

It is possible to spam a newsgroup with one well- (or ill-) planned message, e.g. asking "What do you think of abortion?" on soc.women. This can be done by cross-posting, e.g. any message which is crossposted to alt.rush-limbaugh and alt.politics.homosexuality will almost inevitably spam both groups. (Compare troll and flame bait).

Posting a message to a significant proportion of all newsgroups is a sure way to spam Usenet and become an object of almost universal hatred. Canter and Siegel spammed the net with their Green card post.

If you see an article which you think is a deliberate spam, DO NOT post a follow-up - doing so will only contribute to the general annoyance. Send a polite message to the poster by private e-mail and CC it to "postmaster" at the same address. Bear in mind that the posting's origin might have been forged or the apparent sender's account might have been used by someone else without his permission.

The word was coined as the winning entry in a 1937 competition to choose a name for Hormel Foods Corporation's "spiced meat" (now officially known as "SPAM luncheon meat"). Correspondant Bob White claims the modern use of the term predates Monty Python by at least ten years. He cites an editor for the Dallas Times Herald describing Public Relations as "throwing a can of spam into an electric fan just to see if any of it would stick to the unwary passersby."

Usenet newsgroup:

See also netiquette.


(A narrowing of sense 1, above) To indiscriminately send large amounts of unsolicited e-mail meant to promote a product or service. Spam in this sense is sort of like the electronic equivalent of junk mail sent to "Occupant".

In the 1990s, with the rise in commercial awareness of the net, there are actually scumbags who offer spamming as a "service" to companies wishing to advertise on the net. They do this by mailing to collections of e-mail addresses, Usenet news, or mailing lists. Such practises have caused outrage and aggressive reaction by many net users against the individuals concerned.


(Apparently a generalisation of sense 2, above) To abuse any network service or tool by for promotional purposes.

"AltaVista is an index, not a promotional tool. Attempts to fill it with promotional material lower the value of the index for everyone. [...] We will disallow URL submissions from those who spam the index. In extreme cases, we will exclude all their pages from the index." -- Altavista.


(jargon, programming)
To crash a program by overrunning a fixed-size buffer with excessively large input data.

See also buffer overflow, overrun screw, smash the stack.


(chat, games)
(A narrowing of sense 1, above) To flood any chat forum or Internet game with purposefully annoying text or macros. Compare Scrolling.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (


(1) See Web spam and spam phone call.

(2) Email that is not requested. Also called "junk email," "gray mail," "unsolicited commercial email" (UCE) and "unsolicited bulk email" (UBE), the term is both a noun (the email message) and a verb (to send it). Spam is used to advertise products or to broadcast political or social commentary.

The term was coined from a Monty Python comedy sketch (see image below). Spam is also known to mean "sales promotional advertising mail" or "simultaneously posted advertising message."

A Social Plague
Like viruses, spam is a scourge on the Internet as billions of unwanted messages are transmitted daily. Unfortunately, as an advertising medium, spam produces results (see "Why Do They Do It" below). In order to reduce spam for their customers, ISPs have added many servers that do only filtering (see spam filter and spam account). Unsolicited phone calls are another form of spam and perhaps even more of a nuisance (see robocall).

On January 1, 2004, the CAN-SPAM act became law in the U.S., which provides severe penalties for spammers, if they can be located (see CAN-SPAM). See image spam, SPIM, SPIT, mobile phone spam, form spam, mail bomb, Joe Job, SPF, letter bomb, spamdexing, Blacklist of Internet Advertisers, munging, RBL, ROKSO, MAPS, spam relay, spam trap, botnet, rogue site and opt-in.

Why Do They Do It?

Simple math. Suppose that out of 4,000 spam messages, one person buys something, and the spammer makes a dollar. If two million spams were sent that day, the spammer made $500, and the job took a half hour to set up. A few hours per week could yield $100,000 annually... enough incentive for techie teenagers? Of course, consistent revenue is not guaranteed, but there is ample motivation.

Filters Create Even More Spam
As spam filtering becomes more sophisticated, spammers send even more email to make the same profit. Email address lists can be hijacked or purchased for very little. There is a thriving business selling lists to spammers as well as lists of compromised computers (see zombie). There are even spam service providers that will do all the work (gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit!).

Easy to Rationalize
Spammers justify their existence by citing the huge amount of junk mail sent via the postal system, wasting trees and other resources. They also claim advertisers have been polluting the environment with radio, TV and billboard ads for decades. Nevertheless, a standard for authenticating email could eliminate most spam. Unfortunately, that is a huge project to implement worldwide (see email authentication).

From the Horse's Mouth
This 2004 book was written by a spammer, known only to readers as "Spammer-X." For insights into the minds of real people who spam for a living and how they do it, read "Inside the SPAM Cartel."

The Derivation of the Word
In 1970, a Monty Python sketch depicted a restaurant that included Hormel's spiced meat in every dish. In England in World War II, SPAM was always available while other foods were rationed. Spelled upper case, SPAM is Hormel's trademark.
Copyright © 1981-2019 by The Computer Language Company Inc. All Rights reserved. THIS DEFINITION IS FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. All other reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher.
References in periodicals archive ?
California is the third state to address the junk e-mail problem.
From the Yahoo home page directory, select "Computers and Internet", then "Communications and Networking", then "Electronic Mail", then "Junk E-mail".
This junk e-mail brings difficult and abstract political questions into a pressing domestic reality for millions of individuals.
"A lot of people find junk e-mail annoying but in every new industry there's a risk taker and that's me."
According to the company, version 1.5 also provides refined spam filtering and a built in phishing detector to help users block unwanted junk e-mail.
to offer members a service that will protect their systems against viruses and manage junk e-mail, also known as spare.
The time employees spend deleting junk e-mail costs companies nearly $22 billion a year, according to a recent survey.
With all the junk e-mail that crowds our in-boxes these days, a program that curbs spam would seem like a good thing, no?
H is for "ham"--an ordinary e-mail message blocked because it includes one or more keywords common to spam, or unsolicited junk e-mail. (As in, "one person's spam is another person's 'ham,' hacker-speak for desirable e-mail"--The Associated Press, Jan.
Finnish-Swedish telecomms operator TeliaSonera AB said on Monday (3 November) that it would start to immediately block Internet traffic sent to and from computers that send junk e-mail, or spam.
JUNK E-MAIL is like seasickness: If you don't get it, you don't really understand how bad it is.
Almost a third of UK finance chiefs believe their performance at work has suffered due to the increase of junk e-mail - spam - according to a new survey from Reed Accountancy.