Foo Fu

September 24, 2006

According to Wikipedia, “Foo” is the “canonical metasyntactic variable.” In plain english, a metasyntactic variable usually means a nonsense word or other string of characters used as a placeholder in computer code (a really simple example of this would be: if Foo=10, then 5*Foo=50). Peek into programs written in anything from Javascript to C++ and you’re likely to find “foo” — along with other commonly used variables like bar and baz.

So I started to wonder where it all came from, especially in light of the fact that the premier IT insider get-together/unconference is called “Foo Camp.” Well, it turns out that Foo Camp derives its name from a completely different source — Foo in this case standing for “Friends of O’Reilly,” the tech guru who runs the exclusive invite-only yearly event. Foo the metasyntactic variable supposedly comes from very different sources. A complete etymology of foo can be found here. Apparently, it’s unclear whether it’s a leftover from WWII slang or a reference to an old Warner Bros. cartoon.

Importantly (if anything can be important with regard to subjects like this), Foo is only one of a long list of placeholder names used in computer code and language in general. The Wikipedia entry on placeholder names contains a great list of these kinds of words. Each of these words gave me a chuckle, so here they are for you in hopes that they may brighten your day:

* buddy[1] (Newfoundland English)
* chummy[2] (Newfoundland English)
* crap
* crud
* da’ kine (Common in Hawaii)
* dealie or dealy
* dealyjobber
* dingus
* doobri or dooberry
* doodad
* doo-hickey
* doofer
* doover or dooverlacky
* efamijig
* frammis
* frammisite
* frobnitz
* gadget
* geemie
* gewgaw or geegaw
* gizmo
* gubbins
* hickey (Common in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
* hodad
* hingmy (Scottish, derived from thingummy)
* jawn (Common in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
* jobby (Scottish, popularised by Billy Connolly)
* junk
* machine[3] (Newfoundland English)
* kerjigger
* McGuffin
* mumble
* oojamaflip
* oojamafurkle
* oojamawotsit
* phlebotinum
* shit
* stuff
* thing
* thingamabob
* thingamaflap
* thingamajig
* thingamajigger
* thingamajobber
* thingum
* thingummy
* thingy
* widget
* whatchamacallit
* whatnot
* whatsit (often spelled wotsit)
* whatsitsname
* whoosiwagger
* whozis
* whozeewhatsit
* yoke (Commonly used in Ireland)



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