Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A side of Ham

Amateur radio operators are called "hams." The etymology is convoluted, starting in the early 1900s. The term for the original pork product dates to 1637 the Germanic "hamm" meaning bend of the knee, it's straight from the pre-germanic "kham" and dutch "hamme" both meaning shinbone. Around 1928 pilots who were hard on the controls were called "ham-fisted." It comes from the the derogatory word "hammy." At the time it only meant "over-acting" which is still it's primary meaning. More here.The amateurish, "hammy" comes from theater. Actors weren't "hammy" until around 1880 when the derogatory "hamfatter" was shortened. Hamfatter was a reference to an older minstrel show the "ham fat man." But the actual "amateurish" meaning comes from radio. It was used first in print in this sense around 1919. More here.Amateur radio like any other highly technical microcosm had it's own jargon. The jargon of telegraph operators was called "hog-morse." That probably eased the transition of the word ham across it's various meanings. As today an impish newcomer to HTML might be called a "newbie"less-than-capable radio operators were called hams. An article in was very informative: "McClure's Magazine, author L. C. Hall noted "It is an every-day thing to hear senders characterized as Miss Nancys, rattle-brains, swell-heads, or cranks, or 'jays,' simply because the sound of their dots and dashes suggests the epithets."

In 1915 the article "Floods and Wireless" by Hanby Carver in Technical World Magazine the author used the word ham in the modern sense. You can actually read the article here, courstesy of What happened after 1919 is gradually the term lost it's negative connotation. It became just general slang for all amateurs... no insult intended.