Etymology of "Foo"
RFC 3092

Document Type RFC - Informational (April 2001; Errata)
Last updated 2013-03-02
Stream ISE
Formats plain text pdf html bibtex
Stream ISE state (None)
Consensus Boilerplate Unknown
Document shepherd No shepherd assigned
IESG IESG state RFC 3092 (Informational)
Telechat date
Responsible AD (None)
Send notices to (None)
Network Working Group                                    D. Eastlake 3rd
Request for Comments: 3092                                      Motorola
Category: Informational                                        C. Manros
                                                                   Xerox
                                                              E. Raymond
                                                  Open Source Initiative
                                                            1 April 2001

                           Etymology of "Foo"

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of this
   memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2001).  All Rights Reserved.

Abstract

   Approximately 212 RFCs so far, starting with RFC 269, contain the
   terms `foo', `bar', or `foobar' as metasyntactic variables without
   any proper explanation or definition.  This document rectifies that
   deficiency.

Table of Contents

   1. Introduction............................................1
   2. Definition and Etymology................................2
   3. Acronyms................................................5
   Appendix...................................................7
   Security Considerations...................................11
   References................................................12
   Authors' Addresses........................................13
   Full Copyright Statement..................................14

1. Introduction

   Approximately 212 RFCs, or about 7% of RFCs issued so far, starting
   with [RFC269], contain the terms `foo', `bar', or `foobar' used as a
   metasyntactic variable without any proper explanation or definition.
   This may seem trivial, but a number of newcomers, especially if
   English is not their native language, have had problems in
   understanding the origin of those terms.  This document rectifies
   that deficiency.

Eastlake, et al.             Informational                      [Page 1]
RFC 3092                   Etymology of "Foo"               1 April 2001

   Section 2 below describes the definition and etymology of these words
   and Section 3 interprets them as acronyms.

   As an Appendix, we include a table of RFC occurrences of these words
   as metasyntactic variables.

2. 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

Eastlake, et al.             Informational                      [Page 2]
RFC 3092                   Etymology of "Foo"               1 April 2001

      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"
Show full document text