>I was just wondering if any of you know where the term foobar originated from.
>Since i started taking comp.sci classes the term just seems to pop up
>everywhere, and I'd really like to know if there is a story behind it....
It was once an acronym for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. The spelling has
changed over the years. The original is at least as old as World War II, and
maybe older. The use of FOO and BAR as example variable names goes back at
least to 1964 and the IBM 7070. This too may be older, but that is where I
first saw it. This was in Assembler. What would be the FORTRAN integer
equivalent? IFOO and IBAR?
In World War II it was "fubar," standing for "fouled up beyond all
repair." Actually, it wasn't "fouled" but I leave that to the
imagination of any readers of this non xxx-rated medium. Bert Cowlan.
There are actually three main versions of the term "foobar." First of
all there is FUBAR which goes back a long way and stands for Fouled Up
Beyond All Recognition. It has been used to refer to any device which
is badly corrupted or damaged. I believe the term was used back as far
as World War II and later came into the computer industry.
Then there are the words "foo" and "bar" which are often used in example
programs in computer science textbooks. These terms are often used
either as function names or variable names. I believe their use
originated at MIT in the 1950-60's with the Tech Model Railroad Club. I
think one of their classic model railroad layouts had a number of
switches called "foo" switches.
The combined term "foobar" is often used for the name of a program which
is either an example or a "do nothing" program. Again, foobar programs
often appear in CS textbooks.
I'm sure someone out there can add to this very basic explanation with a
more accurate definition and more interesting folklore.
Don Congdon | Those who scorn computer history
Consultant | are those who really don't grasp
Congdon ComputerTECH Services | what is happening today and will
cc...@ix.netcom.com | never really shape tomorrow.
I'll post what little I know and see if anyone can work back from there.
Foobar is a corruption of "fubar", an acronym for "fucked up beyond all
recognition". I believe this term originated in the US armed services during
World War II.
When I joined DEC in 1966, foobar was already being commonly used as a
throw-away file name. I believe fubar became foobar because the PDP-6
supported six character names, although I always assumed the term migrated to
DEC from MIT. There were many MIT types at DEC in those days, some of whom
had worked with the 7090/7094 CTSS. Since the 709x was also a 36 bit machine,
foobar may have been used as a common file name there.
Foo and bar were also commonly used as file extensions. Since the text
editors of the day operated on an input file and produced an output file, it
was common to edit from a .foo file to a .bar file, and back again.
It was also common to use foo to fill a buffer when editing with TECO. The
text string to exactly fill one disk block was IFOO<cr>$HXA127GA$$. Almost
all of the PDP-6/10 programmers I worked with used this same command string.
I think Foobar came into common (public) usage from the film "Tango and
Cash" (Selvester Stalone and Patrick Swaysee). In the film "Foobar" is
used, explained, and then used again and again thoughout the rest of the
The film didn't do well at the box office, but it did get "Foobar" into
common usage! <grin>
My own research to date had revealed that FOOBAR stands for "FTP
Operation Over Big Address Records", according to RFC1639
(http://sunsite.auc.dk/RFC/rfc/rfc1639.html), but as this was written in
1994 it post-dates my first encounter with the term, so I suspect that
it was a case of choosing the name to fit the acronym.
However, inspired by your question, I have dug around a bit more and
found that there is an answer, of sorts, in the "New Hacker's
We have shown ourselves up as Newbies to this group, as this thread was
discussed here in March, according the archives at Deja News, which was
where I got the explanation from.
tel: +44 1473 605241, fax: +44 1473 621917
The views expressed herein are mine and mine alone - nothing to do with
> I was just wondering if any of you know where the term foobar
> originated from. Since i started taking comp.sci classes the
> term just seems to pop up everywhere, and I'd really like to
> know if there is a story behind it....
As I understand it, Karin, "foobar" is a corruption of the earlier
"fubar", a military-style acronym for "F---ed Up Beyond All
Recognition." (insert "oul" or "uck" to taste).
On a related note, you may see "foo" and "bar" used as variables.
I've been led to believe that the next two variables in the
sequence are "baz" and "quux"; does anyone know of others?
Visit Burlington City __.,---..._ /| Cats are good,
NJ - settled in 1677! _,'.-; .- `'`-,'.\ if they do NOT
http://bc.emanon.net/ `--' ) /;.._,-( ( -4.| lick my screen
___________________________ (_/`-' `--\_)``---` _______________
I review ads for $50 each. Send me yours to enlist my services!
No need. Just have a read of the group alt.foo.bar for a discussion of
>Then there are the words "foo" and "bar" which are often used in example
>programs in computer science textbooks. These terms are often used
>either as function names or variable names. I believe their use
>originated at MIT in the 1950-60's with the Tech Model Railroad Club. I
>think one of their classic model railroad layouts had a number of
>switches called "foo" switches.
I don't recall any particular use of "BAR" in the TMRC culture of the
early 1960s, but FOO was certainly in use. The TMRC Dictionary entry
for FOO says that it is:
The first syllable of the sacred expression FOO MANE PADME HUM. Our
first obligation is to keep the FOO counters turning.
A 1961(?) issue of the MIT humor (?) magazine _Voo Doo_ has a quite
funny drawing of a (nonexistent) TMRC railroad car equipped with a
The TMRC layout included a digital clock (aka "digital crock"). It
also included numerous scram switches (aka "break all circuit breakers
buttons") that were to be pressed in the event of an impending
collision on the track; whenever the scram switch was pressed the
clock would light up with the word FOO. I don't recall anything
called a "foo" switch (but memory can decay after 34 years...)
I'm stretching my memory, but I don't recall any prominent use of
BAR or FOOBAR at TMRC or in the PDP-1/TX-0 communities (which had
a significant overlap) in 1963 or earlier; that's when I left MIT.
I generally agree with the etymology of 'foobar' as published in
TNHD -- which isn't really surprising since some of it came from
my postings several years ago in this newsgroup.
Joe Morris / MITRE
What I want to know, though, is why SNAFU never became a computer
term? FUBAR and SNAFU are terms (probably) originating in the military
in about the same era.
P.S. Hmm, isn't a FOOBar a drinking establishment that's lost it's
liquor license? Food Orders Only-Bar. :-)
I'm amazed that no-one has yet quoted the Hacker's dictionary for the
However, the use of the word `foo' itself has more complicated
antecedents, including a long history in comic strips and cartoons. The
old "Smokey Stover" comic strips by Bill Holman often included the word
`FOO', in particular on license plates of cars; 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 dogs").
>I generally agree with the etymology of 'foobar' as published in
>TNHD -- which isn't really surprising since some of it came from
>my postings several years ago in this newsgroup.
I would tend to agree with this... If it's not accurate, then at least
it's a good story...
>I was just wondering if any of you know where the term foobar
>Since i started taking comp.sci classes the term just seems to pop up
>everywhere, and I'd really like to know if there is a story behind
It's an old ARMy expression: "Fucked Up Beyond All Repair"
Your spelling though common was and is a means to clean up the original
meaning of the term. "FUBAR" Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.
Bruce B. Reynolds, Systems Consultant: Founder of Trailing Edge
Technologies---Sweeping Up Behind Data Processing Dinosaurs
"wom" and "bat", in my experience.
My personal first reference to "foo bar" was in a UNIX book by Kergnihan &
Pike, The UNIX Programing Environment. I am guessing that their use of "foo
bar" was a double entandre, in that FUBAR itself was mis-spelled.
<<Note that E. Hemmingway's 4th & last wife references and dates the use of
these two phrases to WW II in her book on Hemmingway.>>
ec...@cray.com Work = 612-683-3844 // 800-BUG-CRAY x33844
http://wwwsdiv.cray.com/~ecale Beep = 612-637-0873
There's been a lot lately about SNAFU and FUBAR but I seem to
remember (WWII days) TARFU (Things Are Really Fouled Up) as
another one often heard. I also remember WELT...but have no
recollection as to what it stood for? Does anyone? Bert