Re: What kind of FILE names do you make up?

Subject: Re: What kind of FILE names do you make up?
From: "Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 10 Jun 1999 16:18:03 -0700

> At 03:38 PM 6/10/99 -0600, ddavis wrote:
> >I was browsing the Microsoft Manual of Style today, and I noticed that they
> >specifically said when making up fake file names NOT to use "fu" or ""
> >for sample file names.

Beth Friedman writes:
> I bet it's because of the acronym FUBAR, as in "fucked up beyond all
> recognition."
> However, I thought the more standard use for fake file names was foo or

Yup, typical hackish use is foo, bar, and baz (baz being a
variation on bar for occasional examples or variables where bar needs
to undergo some sort of transformation). The Jargon File (an excellent
resource for this sort of thing, and in general can make fascinating
reading and is a good resource for getting to know the mindsets of
your SMEs in the software industry) refers to these as the three
metasyntactic variables.

Note in reference to the earlier discussion of "performant", one
of my comments on the topic:

"However, it has been plausibly suggested that the real reason
for the term "metasyntactic variable" is that it sounds good."
meta bit = M = MFTL

metasyntactic variable n.

A name used in examples and understood to stand for whatever thing is
under discussion, or any random member of a class of things under
discussion. The word foo is the canonical example. To avoid
confusion, hackers never (well, hardly ever) use `foo' or other words
like it as permanent names for anything. In filenames, a common
convention is that any filename beginning with a
metasyntactic-variable name is a scratch file that may be deleted at
any time.

Metasyntactic variables are so called because (1) they are variables
in the metalanguage used to talk about programs etc; (2) they are
variables whose values are often variables (as in usages usages like
"the value of f(foo,bar) is the sum of foo and bar"). However, it has
been plausibly suggested that the real reason for the term
"metasyntactic variable" is that it sounds good.

To some extent, the list of one's preferred metasyntactic variables is
a cultural signature. They occur both in series (used for related
groups of variables or objects) and as singletons. Here are a few
common signatures:

foo, bar, baz, quux, quuux, quuuux...:
MIT/Stanford usage, now found everywhere (thanks largely to
early versions of this lexicon!). At MIT (but not at Stanford),
baz dropped out of use for a while in the 1970s and '80s. A
common recent mutation of this sequence inserts qux before

bazola, ztesch:
Stanford (from mid-'70s on).

foo, bar, thud, grunt:
This series was popular at CMU. Other CMU-associated variables
include gorp.

foo, bar, fum:
This series is reported to be common at XEROX PARC.

fred, jim, sheila, barney:
See the entry for fred. These tend to be Britishisms.

corge, grault, flarp:
Popular at Rutgers University and among GOSMACS hackers.

zxc, spqr, wombat:
Cambridge University (England).

shme Berkeley, GeoWorks, Ingres. Pronounced /shme/ with a short


spam Python programmers.

snork Brown University, early 1970s.

foo, bar, zot
Helsinki University of Technology, Finland.

blarg, wibble
New Zealand.

toto, titi, tata, tutu

pippo, pluto, paperino
Italy. Pippo /pee'po/ and Paperino /pa-per-ee'-no/ are the
Italian names for Goofy and Donald Duck.

aap, noot, mies
The Netherlands. These are the first words a child used to
learn to spell on a Dutch spelling board.

Of all these, only `foo' and `bar' are universal (and baz nearly
so). The compounds foobar and `foobaz' also enjoy very wide

Some jargon terms are also used as metasyntactic names; barf and
mumble, for example. See also Commonwealth Hackish for discussion
of numerous metasyntactic variables found in Great Britain and the

meta bit = M = MFTL

fontology = F = foobar

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,
quux, corge, grault, garply, waldo, fred, plugh,
xyzzy, thud.

The etymology of hackish `foo' is obscure. When used in connection
with `bar' it is generally traced to the WWII-era Army slang acronym
FUBAR (`Fucked Up Beyond All Repair'), later bowdlerized to foobar.
(See also FUBAR.) It has been plausibly suggested that FUBAR was
influenced by German `furchtbar' (terrible). It has also been reported
out that 1960s computer manuals, in a usage influenced by Fortran's
implicit-declaration feature, frequently used F00 (F followed by two
zeros) in examples.

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").

Paul Dickson's excellent book "Words" (Dell, 1982, ISBN 0-440-52260-7)
traces "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."

Other sources confirm that `FOO' was 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. In this connection, the later
American military slang `foo fighters' is interesting; at least as far
back as the 1950s, radar operators used it 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).

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 turning.

For more about the legendary foo counters, see TMRC. Almost the
entire staff of what later became the MIT AI Lab was involved with
TMRC, and probably picked the word up there.

Very probably, hackish `foo' had no single origin and derives through
all these channels from Yiddish `feh' and/or English `fooey'.

fontology = F = foobar

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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