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Mar 99

“Hacker” Jargon

What does “foo” mean? Where does it come from? “Foo” is used as a metasyntactic variable (that is, a placeholder variable, which you’re meant to replace) in computing, but it has origins somewhere. There are many theories regarding Foo’s origins.

1. There’s the Saving Private Ryan/WWII theory, where “Fubar” was shortened to “Fu”, which was consequently mutilated to form “Foo”. It’s an ongoing joke in SPR as Upham, the translator, tries to find out what the hell “Fubar” means after being told it’s a German word. FUBAR is an acronym for, “Fucked up beyond all recognition.”

2. There’s also some truth in that “Fubar” is a German word. It may possibly be derived from “Furchtbar” which means terrible. This, and the explanation above would both fit into the situations where they are used in SPR.

3. Foo might come from “Feu” which is the French word for “Fire”. Also, Foo might mean “evil” or “devil” (archiac English?). Another possible meaning of “Foo” is rooted in aviation. If a plane were to hit “foo” (garbage) on the runway, it would be known as “Fubar” (see #1). Foo Fighters were thus employed to keep runways free of “foo”. Hence explaining the name of the band with the same name.

4. In VAX (a computer op system?), FUBAR stands for “Failed UniBus Address Register”.

5. Mr T said, “I pity the foo…”

6. In the 1938 cartoon “The Daffy Doc”, a very early version of Daffy Duck holds up a sign saying “SILENCE IS FOO!”

Check out Slashdot for more (a long conversation thread) on this topic.
Also check out a “Hacker’s Dictionary” – comprehensive coverage of “Hacking” jargon.