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Computing (FOLDOC) dictionary
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jargon /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,
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.