A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 30, 2019
SNAFU (Situation Normal—All Fouled Up)

"SNAFU” is a World War II term that means “Situation Normal—All Fouled Up.” The actual term was probably “Situation Normal—All Fucked Up.”

“That _"snafu"—ed.) means ‘situation normal—all fiddled up’” was printed in the Daily Times (Chicago, IL) on June 5, 1941. “’Snafu means ‘situation normal, all fuddled up’” was printed in the San Francisco (CA) Chronicle on June 15, 1941. “The way I heard it, it goes ‘Situation normal. All fixed up’” was printed in the Windsor (ON) Daily Star on August 2, 1941.

Other World War II acronyms include FUBAR (Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition) and JANFU (Joint Army Navy Foul-Up).


Wikipedia: SNAFU
SNAFU is an acronym that is widely used to stand for the sarcastic expression Situation Normal: All Fucked Up. It is a well-known example of military acronym slang; however the original military acronym stood for “Status Nominal: All Fucked Up.” It is sometimes bowdlerized to “all fouled up” or similar. It means that the situation is bad, but that this is a normal state of affairs. The acronym is believed to have originated in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.

In modern usage, SNAFU is sometimes used as an interjection. SNAFU also sometimes refers to a bad situation, mistake, or cause of trouble. It is more commonly used in modern vernacular to describe running into an error or problem that is large and unexpected. For example, in 2005, The New York Times published an article titled “Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu”.

Origin
SNAFU was first recorded in American Notes and Queries in their September 1941 issue. Time magazine used the term in their June 16, 1942 issue: “Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu.” Most reference works, including the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, supply an origin date of 1940–1944, generally attributing it to the U.S. Army. Rick Atkinson ascribes the origin of SNAFU, FUBAR, and a bevy of other terms to cynical GIs ridiculing the Army’s penchant for acronyms.

The attribution of SNAFU to the American military is not universally accepted: it has also been attributed to the British, although the Oxford English Dictionary gives its origin and first recorded use as U.S. military slang.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
snafu, phr., adj., and n.
Etymology: Acronym < the initial letters of situation normal: all fouled (or fucked) up.
slang (chiefly U.S., orig. U.S. Military).
A. phr.
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. Notes & Queries Sept. 94/2 Snafu, situation normal.
1943 Amer. Mercury Nov. 555/2 Snafu—politely translated as ‘situation normal; all fouled up’, to indicate that things are not going too well.
B. adj.
Confused, chaotic.
1942 Time 15 June 11/1 Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu.
C. n.
Now usually with a and plural. A confusion or mix-up; a hitch, mishap; muddle, confused state.
1943 Yank 10 Sept. 9 They worked hard and steadily, with a minimum of snafu.

5 June 1941, Daily Times (Chicago, IL), pg. 10, col. 2:
Army’s all snafu
Snakes, bugs halt ‘battle march

By KEITH WHEELER
(TIMES Staff Correspondent)
Bell Buckle, Tenn., June 5.—“Everything, said 1st. Lieut. Robert G. Anderson, executive officer of company G. 2d battalion, (New York) infantry, 27th division “is turning out snafu.”
(...)
What,” The Times asked, “does snafu means?”

“Oh, that,” said Lieut. Anderson. “That means ‘situation normal—all fiddled up’.”

15 June 1941, San Francisco (CA) Chronicle, pg. H5, col. 4:
Slanguage
Army Camps Developing a Dictionary

By HOWARD NEEDHAM
(...)
“Snafu” means “situation normal, all fuddled up.”

2 August 1941, Windsor (ON) Daily Star, second sec., pg. 4, cols. 1-3:
Everything in Army Strictly “Snafu”
[Kansas City Star]
(...)
The word was “snafu” and his family was curious about its precise meaning. It seems the sergeant has been using it recklessly to express his feelings or whenever less spectacular but more meaningful words escaped him.

“Why snafu just means snafu,” the sergeant answered his mother’s question. “I thought everybody knew that by now.”
(...)
“But why do you call them snafus, son?”

“Oh, I don’t know but all the fellows do. It just seems to fit them. It’s a mighty elegant word and these new hats are fancy enough to rate something special in the way of a name.”

The sergeant went on to explain that “snafu” was a term the 35th division outfits that went on manoeuvres over in Tennessee last month imported to Camp Robinson.

“But surely the word didn’t just pop out of somebody’s head,” his mother protested.

“Well, you hear two versions of that. Most of the fellows say that’s the way it happened. Then, after snafu got pretty well spread around, somebody decided it was a bunch of letters that stood for words.”

“What words, son?”

“The way I heard it, it goes ‘Situation normal. All fixed up.’”

3 October 1941, The Evening Sun (Baltimore, MD), pg. 1, col. 4:
Observers on Army Morale
By BEN H. MILLER, Staff Correspondent, The Evening Sun
(...)
“Snafu" is Universal
“Snafu” is universal down here: “Situation Normal: All Fussed Up.” And practically every outfit in the field, from the First Armored Division to the housekeeping troops at headquarters claims to have originated it.

17 April 1942, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 17, col. 7:
Jap High Command
‘Snafu” Over Raids
U. S. Refuses to Help Tokio Clear Up Mystery of Bombings

By Inquirer Washington Bureau Staff
WASHINGTON, April 21. 
Japanese reports on the bombing of Tokio and other Japanese cities indicate a state of mind among the Japanese High Command for which the Navy has a special slang expression—“snafu,” which is a synonym for extreme confusion.

24 December 1943, San Francisco (CA) Chronicle, “San Francisco” by Robert O’Brien, pg. 11, col. 2:
A NEW ONE: Inasmuch as this column seems to have devoted itself to the armed forces, we might as well conclude it with what we understand to be the latest addition to the “SNAFU” department of servicemen’s jargon.

As you probably know, SNAFU, in its printable version, stands for ‘Situation Normal—All Fouled Up.” Then there’s TARFU, which means, “Things Really Fouled Up,” and FUBAR, which is short for “Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition.” Now some one has come up with JANFU, than which, apparently, nothing could be worse. It means “Joint Army-Navy Foul-Up.”

19 January 1944, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Washington Background” by Inquirer Washington Bureau Staff, pg. 16, col. 2:
Some months ago, we explained the meaning of the coined word which gained currency in the Navy—“snafu”—“situation normal all fouled up.”

Now, we learn that the Army and the Navy have new words for situations that go beyond that. There is, for example, “fubar,” which means “fouled up beyond all recognition.” Also “janfu,” which means “joint Army and Navy foul up,” and “jaafu,” which means “joint Anglo-American foul-up.”

IMDb (The Internet Movie Database)
Snafu (1945)
Approved | 1h 25min | Comedy | 22 November 1945 (USA)
A 14-year-old boy lies about his age and enlists in the United State Marine Corps without his family’s consent or knowledge. He is sent into battle, in the Pacific war-zone, and decorated, and spotted in a newsreel by his family. The family asks the War Department to discharge him and send him home. A complicated period of adjustment follows for both the boy, who is no longer a boy even at the age of 15, and his family. (S/N/A/F/U, as the title is displayed, was a World War II military slang term standing for...Situation normal, all f(rigged) up. When the title was used on a 1984 film, the meaning, and all the correct words were used. )
—Les Adams
Director: Jack Moss
Writers: Louis Solomon (play), Harold Buchman (play) | 2 more credits »
Stars: Robert Benchley, Barbara Jo Allen, Conrad Janis | See full cast & crew »

Urban Dictionary
SNAFU
One of a progression of military situational indicators:

1. SNAFU - Situation Normal, All Fucked Up - Thing are running normally.
2. TARFUN - Things Are Really Fucked Up Now - Houston, we have a problem.
3. FUBAR - Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition - Burn it to the ground and start over from scratch; it’s totally destroyed.
This day started out SNAFU, but then my machine went all TARFUN. The place was totally FUBAR after that.
by Proud Conservative January 16, 2004

StackExchange: English Language & Usage
Researching the real origin of SNAFU
Don Taylor

Roaring Fish found another etymology of SNAFU from Don Taylor (wayback). Taylor says in April or May of 1941 (before Pearl Harbor) during radio network training at Camp San Luis Obispo, California, it came from a mechanical coding device that scrambled messages into five letter code groups. He and John Paup entertained themselves by forming initialisms from the codes.

Taylor’s son Greg (wayback) writes:

One day, as he recalls, he received a code group S.N.A.F.U. from Johnny Paup.

“It was instantaneous, inevitable, and there was no question,” the words came to him; “SITUATION NORMAL, ALL F - - - - D UP! To Taylor and other enlisted types, this perfectly described the military growing pains before and just after Pearl Harbor.

Eventually S.N.A.F.U. spread like V.D. in an off base W - - - E house. It went everywhere there was radio communication. The Pentagon literally survived on various levels of “SNAFU” until Warner Brothers picked up on it for their training film star!

(...)
edited May 24 ‘17 at 13:40
MetaEd♦

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Tuesday, July 30, 2019 • Permalink