16 July 2011

OT: Etymology of Foo

This is not a real post.

I had been a regular user of 'Foo', and had read this document well before I played WoW. My first toon name was foobarfoo (foobar being unavailable); a glorious level 20 mage on another account.

Definition and Etymology

bar /bar/ n. [JARGON]

1. The second metasyntactic variable, after foo and before baz.
"Suppose we have two functions: FOO and BAR. FOO calls BAR...."

2. Often appended to foo to produce foobar.

foo /foo/

1. interj. Term of disgust.

2. 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 (bar, baz, qux, quux, corge, grault, garply,
waldo, fred, plugh, xyzzy, thud). [JARGON]

When used in connection with `bar' it is generally traced to the
WW II era Army slang acronym FUBAR (`Fucked Up Beyond All
Repair'), later modified to foobar. Early versions of the Jargon
File [JARGON] interpreted this change as a post-war
bowdlerization, but 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. In the 1938 Warner Brothers
cartoon directed by Robert Clampett, "The Daffy Doc", a very early
version of Daffy Duck holds up a sign saying "SILENCE IS FOO!"
`FOO' and `BAR' also occurred in Walt Kelly's "Pogo" strips. The
earliest documented uses were in the surrealist "Smokey Stover"
comic strip by Bill Holman about a fireman. This comic strip
appeared in various American comics including "Everybody's"
between about 1930 and 1952. It frequently included the word
"FOO" 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 had Smokey say "Where there's
foo, there's fire". 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".
According to the Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion [WBCC] 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 may have been 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
dogs") [PERS]. English speakers' reception of Holman's `foo'
nonsense word was undoubtedly influenced by Yiddish `feh' and
English `fooey' and `fool'. [JARGON, FOLDOC]

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 [EAC], `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 the couple of appearances in Warner Brothers
cartoons of 1938-39) but with their origins rapidly forgotten.
[JARGON]

One place they are known to have remained live is in the U.S.
military during the WWII years. In 1944-45, the term `foo
fighters' [FF] 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 [BFF]). Informants
connected the term to the Smokey Stover strip [PERS].

The U.S. and British militaries frequently swapped slang terms
during the war. Period sources reported that `FOO' became a
semi-legendary subject of WWII British-army graffiti more or less
equivalent to the American Kilroy [WORDS]. 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 [JARGON]. Forty years later,
Paul Dickson's excellent book "Words" [WORDS] 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 sarcasm."

Earlier versions of the Jargon File 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. [JARGON]

An old-time member reports that in the 1959 "Dictionary of the
TMRC Language", compiled at TMRC (the Tech Model Railroad Club at
MIT) there was an entry for Foo. The current on-line version, in
which "Foo" is the only word coded to appear red, has the
following [TMRC]:

Foo: The sacred syllable (FOO MANI PADME HUM); to be spoken
only when under obligation to commune with the Deity. Our first
obligation is to keep the Foo Counters turning.

This definition used Bill Holman's nonsense word, then only two
decades old and demonstrably still live in popular culture and
slang, to make 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. [JARGON]

4. [EF] Prince Foo was the last ruler of Pheebor and owner of the
Phee Helm, about 400 years before the reign of Entharion. When
Foo was beheaded by someone he called an "eastern fop" from
Borphee, the glorious age of Pheebor ended, and Borphee rose to
the prominence it now enjoys.

5. [OED] A 13th-16th century usage for the devil or any other enemy.
The earliest citation it gives is from the year 1366, Chaucer A B
C (84): "Lat not our alder foo [devil] make his bobance [boast]".
Chaucer's "Foo" is probably related to modern English "foe".

6. Rare species of dog.

A spitz-type dog discovered to exist after having long been
considered extinct, the Chinese Foo Dog, or Sacred Dog of
Sinkiang, may have originated through a crossing of Northern
European hunting dogs and the ancient Chow Chow from Mongolia or
be the missing link between the Chinese Wolf and the Chow Chow.
It probably derives its name from foochow, of the kind or style
prevalent in Foochow, of or from the city of Foochow (now Minhow)
in southeast China. [DOG]

foobar n.

[JARGON] A widely used metasyntactic variable; see foo for
etymology. Probably originally propagated through DECsystem
manuals by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1960s and early
1970s; confirmed sightings there go back to 1972. Hackers do not
generally use this to mean FUBAR in either the slang or jargon
sense. It has been plausibly suggested that "foobar" spread among
early computer engineers partly because of FUBAR and partly
because "foo bar" parses in electronics techspeak as an inverted
foo signal.

foo-fighter n.

World War II term for Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) noted by
both German and British military. See [FF] and entry above for
"foo".

3. Acronyms

The following information is derived primarily from the compilations
at University Cork College and Acronym
Finder generally filtered for computer
usage.

.bar:

Generic file extension which is not meant to imply anything about
the file type.

BAR:

Base Address Register

Buffer Address Register

FOO:

Forward Observation Observer.

FOO Of Oberlin. An organization whose name is a recursive
acronym. Motto: The FOO, the Proud, the FOO. See
.

File Open for Output. An NFILE error code [RFC1037].

FOOBAR:

FTP Operation Over Big Address Records [RFC1639]. (Particularly
appropriate given that the first RFC to use "foo", [RFC269], was
also about file transfer.)

FUBAR:

Failed UniBus Address Register - in a VAX, from Digital Equipment
Corporation Engineering.

Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition/Repair - From US Military in
World War II. Sometimes sanitized to "Fouled Up ...".

FUBARD - Past tense of FUBAR.

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3 comments:

  1. Nice post ;)

    Older gamers may recall one of the original text-based games "Colossal Caves" (aka "Adventure"). The giant in this game said "Fee Fie Foe Foo". Incidentally, I had a toon (not on Cael) called Xyzzy, which came from this same game.

    Later in gaming came the slightly more advanced Hack (later Nethack - also Larn, Rogue). Can't begin to count the number of hours I played this - maybe not quite as much as WoW though ;) In Hack/Nethack there were scrolls inscribed with odd names, one of which was FOOBIE BLETCH, which nicely links FOO and BLETCH (which isn't just the name I'm posting under here, but was also the name of my first WoW toon).

    Cheers,
    Neoriv.

    ReplyDelete
  2. nice post foo..
    well that explains...i guess everything :-)
    on a related foo note my second favourite diagnosis (right behind poo syncope for you Scrubs fans) is the dreaded FITH syndrome (Fucked In The Head)...sadly an all too common disorder

    ReplyDelete
  3. Kind of reminds me of the "shmoo"...

    But gotta love the old FUBAR. Close friends of SNAFU and TARFU.

    Interesting article though.

    ReplyDelete

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