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
, 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
bazola, ztesch: Stanford (from mid-'70s on). foo
, thud, grunt: This series was popular at CMU. Other CMU-associated variables include gorp
, 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
: Popular at Rutgers University and among GOSMACS
zxc, spqr, wombat: Cambridge University (England).
shme Berkeley, GeoWorks, Ingres. Pronounced /shme/ with a short /e/.
foo, bar, baz, bongo Yale, late 1970s.
snork Brown University, early 1970s. foo
, zot Helsinki University of Technology, Finland.
blarg, wibble New Zealand.
toto, titi, tata, tutu France.
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 currency.
Some jargon terms are also used as metasyntactic names; barf
, for example. See also Commonwealth Hackish
for discussion of numerous metasyntactic variables found in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.