Are You a SPUG?

From the San Francisco Call, November 14, 1913.

“Spug” is the unattractive nickname of a society which is doing a useful service in discouraging the giving of useless presents. The full name of the organization is the “Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving,” or S. P. U. G., “spug.” The society was organized last year and has just begun its 1913 campaign to discourage the habit of indiscriminate and unnecessary gift making.


The SPUGs are a bit problematic. The founder was a very wealthy and privileged woman, Anne Morgan (relative of J.P. Morgan) – apparently it started with the idea that gift-giving in employer/employee relationships amounted to formalized bribery, which is true, and generalized from there. I find it a bit problematic that someone incredibly wealthy was saying to workers “save your money” when maybe “pay your workers better, dad and capitalists!” would have been more apposite.

I give stuff away all the time, and generally don’t give people stuff for holidays because I figure they’re already bored and jaded with stuff. It’s much more fun to send someone a christmas present in July. Or a halloween present. Or a “today the battle of Borodino was fought!” present. I’m sure that my friends all think I am weird* but at least they are thinking of me. It’s almost always something I made, or some bizzare thing that made me think of them, personally: I didn’t haul myself to the mall and spend a day walking around with a list going, “what can I get for Fred? I don’t even like Fred…”

One of the great joys is giving something nice to complete strangers. Because I think they’re most likely to be honest about it. “Whoah, that soap you sent me smells like goat balls! How did you accomplish that?!” is sincere feedback.

I also enjoy giving kids presents that will make their parents miserable, if I don’t like the parents. I gave one kid I know a drum kit. I gave another a lovely paintball gun. I have been known to give small children things like slide whistles or kazoos. So perhaps the motto should be “Put the USELESS in S.P.U.G.!!!”


California Digital Newspaper Collection: San Francisco Call, November 14, 1913

Slate: The War on Christmas Started 100 Years Ago With the SPUGS

(* They know I am weird!)


  1. says

    We either get a little something for one another, or get something both of us want, but wouldn’t normally get, ’cause it’s fun to indulge. That’s the extent of our xmasness.

    I do think the forced giving in a lot of workplaces, secret santa and all that isht, is awful.

  2. Jean says

    What would worry me would be how someone knows what goat balls smell like. Unless the goat gave consent…

  3. says

    What would worry me would be how someone knows what goat balls smell like.

    A friend of mine keeps goats. I learned (and smelled) some interesting goaty things from Gary’s goat (who was named “Berlusconi” not by coincidence) Apparently this particular goat (or male goats in general?) used to arrange himself so as to pee on his own head, which is why he enthusiastically rubbed his head on people: he was taking ownership of them. And I thought he liked me. Well, he did. But not quite the way I thought.

  4. komarov says

    I have been known to give small children things like slide whistles or kazoos.

    Monstrous. Simply monstrous. Sir, I shall see you at your tribunal. Just as soon as I convince the UN to convene one. I’ll think I’ll start by asking the people who have children. Small children. Small children with kazoos.

  5. says

    Jean @3

    What would worry me would be how someone knows what goat balls smell like.

    Whenever someone says “This tastes like shit,” the only question that goes through my mind is “How do you know that?!?!?!

  6. says

    “Holiday seasons” are expanding into months instead of days. In response, Adbusters, who started Buy Nothing Day, have expanded into Occupy X-mas and joined with Buy Nothing Christmas.

    I stopped giving presents in December about 20 years ago, and told people not to buy me anything. People know best what they want to for themselves. Why waste time and money on something that won’t be appreciated?

  7. kestrel says

    Marcus @#4: Yes, male goats deliberately pee on their heads. They also do other things I won’t bring up; this is why they are traditionally thought of as “satanic” but for them, this is perfectly normal behavior. In addition, male goats have scent glands on their heads, right by the horns, and this is why they rub their heads on things. When a buck is disbudded (horn buds removed as a very young kid) the scent glands are also removed. This does help; he won’t drop the neighbors at 500 yards with the smell when he goes into rut. Nevertheless, disbudded bucks can still pack a mighty powerful wallop. It’s actually doubtful that if you were close enough to a buck to smell his balls, that you would be able to; you would probably be overwhelmed by his “delightful perfume” which he uses to entice the ladies. I mean the does.

    Speaking of consent, I think gift-giving as well as ball-smelling ought to be consensual.

  8. sandi seattle says

    This was a nearly buy nothing xmas for us. As a seasonal worker money is tight during the off season.