Verbivore's Feast, Second Course
More Word & Phrase Origins

by Chrysti Mueller Smith

published by Farcountry Press

  • After spending some time out of print, Verbivore's Feast, Second Course is now available as an ebook!

    In this companion edition to her popular Verbivore's Feast, Chrysti the Wordsmith, host of the much-loved radio show of the same name, once again examines the evolution and history of the English language, using the odd expressions and cliches that pepper it.

    Exploring words such as lollygag and quack, and phrases ranging from break a leg to shake a stick and from adam's apple to trip the light fantastic, Chrysti the Wordsmith uncovers the fascinating stories about their origins.

Ebook only! - $2.99

    Did you know?
  • The phrase doubting Thomas originated with the apostle Thomas, who had not seen Jesus Christ's resurrection and wanted proof.
  • The term mumbo jumbo was the Anglicization of the name of a spirit-god of the Mandingo tribe in western Africa.
  • The word hobnob was first seen in Shakespeare's 1600 play Twelfth Night.

Verbivore's Feast





Verbivore's Feast, Second Course
More Word & Phrase Origins


What a long, strange trip it’s been for the word spam. Moving from the trade name of a canned pork product to the derisive moniker for junk e-mail, spam has performed some lexical acrobatics in the past few decades.

Its life story began in 1936 when Hormel Foods Corporation offered a $100 prize to name their new canned meat product. Kenneth Diagneau, the brother of Hormel’s vice president, suggested the name Spam.

But here’s where the lexical trail grows a bit faint, because no one is certain if Diagneau formed Spam from the first and last letters of SPiced hAM, or if the SP part of the name is an abbreviation for Shoulder Pork. Either way, the name is known to linguists as a blend word, just as breakfast and lunch blended make brunch, and motor and hotel equal motel. With billions of cans of the stuff sold since 1937, Spam’s blended name enjoys global recognition.


Today there are two spams: the canned meat variety, and another synonymous with “junk e-mail.” It turns out that these two spams are related through an unlikely tangle of events.

First, there was the famous 1970 “Spam” sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the British comedy group. A couple enters a restaurant, where they are told by the waitress that the day’s menu consists of “spam egg spam spam bacon and spam” and dozens of other spam specialties. Meanwhile, an inexplicable chorus of helmeted Vikings in the background sings endless praises to “spam, spam, lovely spam.” Their operatic crescendos ultimately overwhelm all conversation.

Then, in the 1980s, in an electronic imitation of the repetitive Viking chorus, abusive computer message board users made it a habit to enter the word spam over and over into the computer to scroll other users’ texts off the screen.

By the mid-1990s, the word spam was increasingly employed to refer to any excessive multiple posting on the Internet. The word has now settled into the cover term for the phenomenon of unsolicited e-mail advertisement.

Chrysti Mueller Smith align= Chrysti M. Smith is host of the radio series "Chrysti the Wordsmith," produced at KGLT-FM on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman and also heard on Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings, Montana, on Montana Public Radio in Missoula, Montana, and worldwide on Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. Smith lives in Belgrade, Montana.

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