Spam, user guides and the use of language


Spam; love it or loathe it? This may seem like an odd question. Everybody hates spam don’t they?

It just reminds me of my grandparent’s Sunday tea table and dodgy school dinners. Oh hang on, we seem to have crossed wires. You may have presumed that I was going to spend my blog ranting about the volume of spam the average technical author receives in their inbox but, no. This week I am talking proper Spam. I have stumbled across one of those words in the English language with a double meaning.

So why am I going on about tinned Spam you may ask?

Well it all started with some VE celebrations to commemorate the 70th anniversary of victory in Europe. I found myself rustling up a few Spam sandwiches to take along to the party. As I buttered up my doorstep bread and retrieved the tin of Spam from the pantry, I came across a user guide. Not a user guide on how to use Spam (there are infinite ways to prepare this culinary delight) but a user guide on how to open the tin.

Opening a tin of spam is definitely less bothersome than it was in my grandmother’s day, no keys required, but in the modern age of Spam it appears we still need a user guide to open it. Have a look at and see the ‘Proper Spam User Guide’ for yourself, from a technical author’s perspective I think it’s quite comprehensive.

I couldn’t bring myself to fry up some spam fritters, school dinner style, with the remains of the tin. Just the thought made me feel queezy! I gave the leftovers to the dog and I believe my friend’s dog ate most of the sandwiches we left behind at the party. There were a lot of leftovers!

To conclude, never make assumptions about your reader and their understanding of the language you are using.

To satisfy your word nerd moments, take a look at the work of Professor David Crystal. The Professor is quite the guru on the use of language and how it develops over time.

Spam, user guides and the use of language

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