This week I was asked a question, that I have been asked many times before, “Where did the term ham come from when speaking about ham radio operators?” The absolute unquestionable answer to this question is unknown but my research has lead me to believe that the following view is the most widely held among authorities as the reason we are called hams.
In those early days of radio communications amateur radio operators were experimenters, traffic handlers, and rag chewers who did this as a hobby or just for the pure love of radio. That is a statement that can still be said of hams today. Then there were those who make money by radio communications. Ship board radio operators and land based radio operators were professionals and the previous group were called amateurs. When amateur radio operators started to be called hams all the other uses of radio, such as business band radio, police radio, broadcast radio, etc., had not come into being. There were just amateur and professional radio operators.
It is believed that the term ham when speaking of amateur radio operators and the term ham used to speak of an actor is of the same origin. When an actor is call a ham it means he or she is not acting professionally but is acting like an amateur. So a bad actor became known as an “am”, which was short for amateur. The British frequently place an “H” sound in front of words starting with vowels, or at least to the American ear it sounds that way. So “am” became “ham”.
So the term ham, when referring to an actor, is just a short form of Amateur. It is an insulting name for an actor and I believe it was meant to be insulting for radio operators to be called hams but those early amateur operators like the word so they accepted it with pride and to this day we carry the name with pride.
Please to those of you who are British this is not a criticism of the way you speak in any way, how could I criticize I mean after all the language is not called American. I am really glad the “H” was placed in front of the word. It is hard for me to think of myself as an “am”.