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Old 27 July 2009, 07:39 PM
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Icon19 Snafu

Comment: I am curious as to the validity of the origin of the acronym
SNAFU as reported in the website
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Old 30 July 2009, 12:42 AM
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The definition is accurate, but the story is questionable.

Originally Posted by OED
[Acronym f. the initial letters of situation normal: all fouled (or ****ed) up.]
A. Used acronymically (often with an explanation) as an expression conveying the common soldier's laconic acceptance of the disorder of war and the ineptitude of his superiors.
1941 Amer. N. & Q. Sept. 94/2 Snafu, situation normal. 1943 Amer. Mercury Nov. 555/2 Snafu{em}politely translated as ‘situation normal; all fouled up’, to indicate that things are not going too well.
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Old 30 July 2009, 01:33 PM
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Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
The definition is accurate, but the story is questionable.
Just out of curiosity, what do you find questionable? Do you find the explanation implausible or is your objection that it's just too difficult to verify? (I think it's certainly difficult to verify, but I don't find it particularly implausible.)

Originally Posted by OED
1941 Amer. N. & Q. Sept. 94/2 Snafu, situation normal.
Fred Shapiro has provided evidence that "snafu" was in use at Camp Joseph T. Robinson (North Little Rock, Arkansas) in late July, 1941, a sighting that slightly antedates that which the OED provides. (I've also found two instances of "snafu" in use in early August, 1941, also with regard to khaki field hats. As with Shapiro's July find, soldiers from Kansas reported using the term at Camp Robinson. There's no indication in these August newspaper articles that "snafu" is an acronym, but a private does describe the new hats as "horrible," so one might assume that "snafu" generally referred to things and situations "all ****ed1 up.")

I guess a question, then, is whether there's enough time for an acronym said to have been coined in San Luis Obispo in April/May 1941 to have made it to North Little Rock by late July. I think it's at least possible, given that the explanation in the link in the OP offers an origin in radio transmission and mentions that,

As to how it spread, there is no way of knowing for certain. I think initially it got spread all over the 40th Infantry Division. At that point in time people were being sent to training schools such as Fort Monmouth, N.J., & Fort Benning Georgia. People from other divisions would be attending such schools and would take "SNAFU" back to their outfits when their training was completed. We also had people that were already proficient in certain jobs and they were sent in small groups to become the nucleus for new Divisions. There were also a number of individuals that were sent to Officer Candidate schools.
Note that Shapiro's July find mentions that "[t]he sergeant went on to explain that 'snafu' was a term the 35th division outfits that went on maneuvers over in Tennessee last month [June] imported to Camp Robinson." It's difficult to know whether the Tennessee usage referred specifically to hats or whether this reflected a general usage of "snafu" with its implication that things were "****ed up."

By the way, this is why I find explanations that "the whole nine yards" came out of WWII or the Korean War (and that it originally referred to ammo belts) so unsatisfying. We're able to find several pre-WWII uses of "snafu," but there's no contemporaneous (WWII/Korean War) sightings of "the whole nine yards"? The earliest we've found so far dates to 1962.

-- Bonnie

[1] I see that "f-ucked up," appropriate here for the purpose of etymological discussion, is automatically altered to "****ed up."
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