Nonsense Phrases

When a programmer needs a nonsense phrase to insert into a document, the phrase or words that often come to mind are “foo bar”. I remember hearing long ago that there was a very well traced etymology of this phrase but I don’t want to bother switching to a different window and googling it. Besides, it would loose some of its mystery.

I’ve got a few common nonsense phrases. Heck, as I’m typing this, I’m thinking that I shouldn’t tell people these phrases. Maybe they could be plugged into some semantic analysis engine and used against me.. Years ago there was talk of passwordless systems that would detect the identity of the user by keystroke patterns and timings, phrase analysis and the like. For example, I usually use my right ring-finger to hit the apostrophe. If I had paid closer attention in my high school typing class, I would have gotten that using my pinky is faster. This slows me down just a bit but it’s completely ingrained after 15 years of typing. A computer should be able to detect my “signature” delay in typing an apostrophe and grant me appropriate system access (or electrocute me, as appropriate).

So, back to my nonsense phrases. When I am creating ficticious todo lists, one phrase has always come to mind for the last 10 years. I think to myself that it’s rather a rude phrase and that people shouldn’t know that I use it. But when I see it, I get all happy thinking about what fantasy creature is actually saying it (surely, not me!) I imagine that I’m not writing this but some powerful fleet of… I don’t know, Vogons or something are making a todo list. If you were a Vogon, what kinds of things would your daily todo list have on it? Well, my creatures have this:

  • Kill all humans

The natural course of action after that is to play on that…. “eat humans” “cook humans in wine”, “nap”, “rule world” etc… A couple times I’ve had to stop myself from building my ficticious planet killing lists at jobs. I’d start the list and then realize that other people would probably be reviewing my code. It might be … … unsightly if I had to explain to someone my pseudocode list system.

For other uses I have different phrases. Ficticious email addresses? That’s easy, is a long-time favorite. The folks at don’t particularly mind. They realized long ago that they’d never get to use for themselves… Jeez, they must get tens of thousands of spams a day. I like that, in order to contact a real person at, you should send email to: jklsemicolon at asdf dot com. Cute.

Variables… Unix geeks use “foo”, “bar” and “foobar”. That is a given.. Hmm. I might dating myself with that. Are there new phrases that are used? I’d love to get comments from you, fair reader. What do you use?

I mark my temporary comments with the ubiquitous asdf just because it’s easy to do a search for in a document. I try to use LCS for comments but it takes sooo many keystrokes, SHIFT, L with the right hand, C with the left, S with the left. What a horrid chore. (wow, I’m lazy).

asdf unfinished. I’ve run out of things to say about this.


  1. Meghan says:

    Hmmm. That was quite interesting. I think that you could have explained it better though. Like, for me, I did not understand “foo” and “bar”. Maybe I’m just missing something here, but I’m not a stupid person and that just didn’t make any sense to me (hmmm. That’d be the point?). It would be much appreciated if you could send me a reply back, maybe with an explanation…or not. Whatever.

  2. Cliff says:

    Hi. I happened to stumble across this discussion while conducting a search on the phrase ‘nonsense phrases’. I noticed the question about the origin of “foo bar”.

    My background is in electrical engineering (with much programming) as well as some years in the military. As one possibility, I’d like to offer that the phrase “foo bar” bears a remarkable resemblance to an often-used phrase in the military … “fubar”, meaning “f’d up beyond all recognition”. (I tried to keep it clean.)

    Maybe these two things are related? I hope this helps.

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