Foo /foo/ 1. Interj. Term Of Disgust. 2. [very Common] Used Very Generally As A Sample Name For Absolutely Anything, Esp.

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foo /foo/

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,
corge, grault, garply,
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'), 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 popular in the 1930s,
which frequently included the word "foo". Bill Holman, the
author of the strip, filled it with odd jokes and personal
contrivances, including other nonsense phrases such as "Notary
Sojac" abd "1506 nix nix". According to the
Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion Holman claimed to have found the word "
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"). 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) but with their origins rapidly forgotten.

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' 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). Informants connected the term to the Smokey
Stover strip.

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 sarcasm."

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, only then 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 difficulty to resist elaborating a joke
like that, and it would be hard to believe 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 there.