V.E.R.A. -- Virtual Entity of Relevant Acronyms (September 2014):
Friends Of O'reilly [meeting]
The Jargon File (version 4.4.7, 29 Dec 2003):
1. interj. Term of disgust.
2. [very common] Used very generally as a sample name for absolutely
anything, esp. programs and files (esp. scratch files).
3. First on the standard list of metasyntactic variables used in syntax
examples. See also bar, baz, qux, quux, garply, waldo, fred,
plugh, xyzzy, thud.
When ?foo? is used in connection with ?bar? it has generally traced to the
WWII-era Army slang acronym FUBAR (?Fucked Up Beyond All Repair? or
?Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition?), later modified to foobar. Early
versions of the Jargon File interpreted this change as a post-war
bowdlerization, but it it now seems more likely that FUBAR was itself a
derivative of ?foo? perhaps influenced by German furchtbar (terrible) ?
?foobar? may actually have been the original form.
For, it seems, the word ?foo? itself had an immediate prewar history in
comic strips and cartoons. The earliest documented uses were in the Smokey
Stover comic strip published from about 1930 to about 1952. Bill Holman,
the author of the strip, filled it with odd jokes and personal
contrivances, including other nonsense phrases such as ?Notary Sojac? and ?
1506 nix nix?. The word ?foo? frequently appeared on license plates of
cars, in nonsense sayings in the background of some frames (such as ?He who
foos last foos best? or ?Many smoke but foo men chew?), and Holman had
Smokey say ?Where there's foo, there's fire?.
According to the Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion Holman claimed to have
found the word ?foo? on the bottom of a Chinese figurine. This is
plausible; Chinese statuettes often have apotropaic inscriptions, and this
one was almost certainly the Mandarin Chinese word fu (sometimes
transliterated foo), which can mean ?happiness? or ?prosperity? when spoken
with the rising tone (the lion-dog guardians flanking the steps of many
Chinese restaurants are properly called ?fu dogs?). English speakers'
reception of Holman's ?foo? nonsense word was undoubtedly influenced by
Yiddish ?feh? and English ?fooey? and ?fool?.
Holman's strip featured a firetruck called the Foomobile that rode on two
wheels. The comic strip was tremendously popular in the late 1930s, and
legend has it that a manufacturer in Indiana even produced an operable
version of Holman's Foomobile. According to the Encyclopedia of American
Comics, ?Foo? fever swept the U.S., finding its way into popular songs and
generating over 500 ?Foo Clubs.? The fad left ?foo? references embedded in
popular culture (including a couple of appearances in Warner Brothers
cartoons of 1938-39; notably in Robert Clampett's ?Daffy Doc? of 1938, in
which a very early version of Daffy Duck holds up a sign saying ?SILENCE IS
FOO!?) When the fad faded, the origin of ?foo? was forgotten.
One place ?foo? is known to have remained live is in the U.S. military
during the WWII years. In 1944-45, the term ?foo fighters? was in use by
radar operators for the kind of mysterious or spurious trace that would
later be called a UFO (the older term resurfaced in popular American usage
in 1995 via the name of one of the better grunge-rock bands). Because
informants connected the term directly to the Smokey Stover strip, the folk
etymology that connects it to French ?feu? (fire) can be gently dismissed.
The U.S. and British militaries frequently swapped slang terms during the
war (see kluge and kludge for another important example) Period sources
reported that ?FOO? became a semi-legendary subject of WWII British-army
graffiti more or less equivalent to the American Kilroy. Where British
troops went, the graffito ?FOO was here? or something similar showed up.
Several slang dictionaries aver that FOO probably came from Forward
Observation Officer, but this (like the contemporaneous ?FUBAR?) was
probably a backronym . Forty years later, Paul Dickson's excellent book ?
Words? (Dell, 1982, ISBN 0-440-52260-7) traced ?Foo? to an unspecified
British naval magazine in 1946, quoting as follows: ?Mr. Foo is a
mysterious Second World War product, gifted with bitter omniscience and
Earlier versions of this entry suggested the possibility that hacker usage
actually sprang from FOO, Lampoons and Parody, the title of a comic book
first issued in September 1958, a joint project of Charles and Robert
Crumb. Though Robert Crumb (then in his mid-teens) later became one of the
most important and influential artists in underground comics, this venture
was hardly a success; indeed, the brothers later burned most of the
existing copies in disgust. The title FOO was featured in large letters on
the front cover. However, very few copies of this comic actually
circulated, and students of Crumb's oeuvre have established that this title
was a reference to the earlier Smokey Stover comics. The Crumbs may also
have been influenced by a short-lived Canadian parody magazine named ?Foo?
published in 1951-52.
An old-time member reports that in the 1959 Dictionary of the TMRC Language
, compiled at TMRC, there was an entry that went something like this:
FOO: The first syllable of the sacred chant phrase ?FOO MANE PADME HUM.
? Our first obligation is to keep the foo counters turning.
(For more about the legendary foo counters, see TMRC.) This definition
used Bill Holman's nonsense word, then only two decades old and
demonstrably still live in popular culture and slang, to a ha ha only
serious analogy with esoteric Tibetan Buddhism. Today's hackers would find
it difficult to resist elaborating a joke like that, and it is not likely
1959's were any less susceptible. Almost the entire staff of what later
became the MIT AI Lab was involved with TMRC, and the word spread from
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (18 March 2015):
/foo/ A sample name for absolutely anything,
especially programs and files (especially scratch files).
First on the standard list of metasyntactic variables used
in syntax examples. See also bar, baz, qux, quux,
corge, grault, garply, waldo, fred, plugh,
The etymology of "foo" is obscure. When used in connection
with "bar" it is generally traced to the WWII-era Army slang
acronym FUBAR, later bowdlerised to foobar.
However, the use of the word "foo" itself has more complicated
antecedents, including a long history in comic strips and
"FOO" often appeared in the "Smokey Stover" comic strip by
Bill Holman. This surrealist strip about a fireman appeared
in various American comics including "Everybody's" between
about 1930 and 1952. FOO was often included on licence plates
of cars and in nonsense sayings in the background of some
frames such as "He who foos last foos best" or "Many smoke but
foo men chew".
Allegedly, "FOO" and "BAR" also occurred in Walt Kelly's
"Pogo" strips. In the 1938 cartoon "The Daffy Doc", a very
early version of Daffy Duck holds up a sign saying "SILENCE IS
FOO!". Oddly, this seems to refer to some approving or
positive affirmative use of foo. It has been suggested that
this might be related to the Chinese word "fu" (sometimes
transliterated "foo"), which can mean "happiness" when spoken
with the proper tone (the lion-dog guardians flanking the
steps of many Chinese restaurants are properly called "fu
Earlier versions of this entry suggested the possibility that
hacker usage actually sprang from "FOO, Lampoons and Parody",
the title of a comic book first issued in September 1958, a
joint project of Charles and Robert Crumb. Though Robert
Crumb (then in his mid-teens) later became one of the most
important and influential artists in underground comics, this
venture was hardly a success; indeed, the brothers later
burned most of the existing copies in disgust. The title FOO
was featured in large letters on the front cover. However,
very few copies of this comic actually circulated, and
students of Crumb's "oeuvre" have established that this title
was a reference to the earlier Smokey Stover comics.
An old-time member reports that in the 1959 "Dictionary of the
TMRC Language", compiled at TMRC there was an entry that
went something like this:
FOO: The first syllable of the sacred chant phrase "FOO MANE
PADME HUM." Our first obligation is to keep the foo counters
For more about the legendary foo counters, see TMRC. Almost
the entire staff of what became the MIT AI LAB was
involved with TMRC, and probably picked the word up there.
Another correspondant cites the nautical construction
"foo-foo" (or "poo-poo"), used to refer to something
effeminate or some technical thing whose name has been
forgotten, e.g. "foo-foo box", "foo-foo valve". This was
common on ships by the early nineteenth century.
Very probably, hackish "foo" had no single origin and derives
through all these channels from Yiddish "feh" and/or English