Monday, January 17, 2005

A usage snafu?

Is "snafu" an appropriate word for a newspaper?

This question came up, briefly, on the desk the other night when it appeared in a staff-written story. The copy editor replaced it, but a few people weren't aware of the word's origin.

It stands for "situation normal, all fucked up." (A relative is fubar, "fucked up beyond all recognition [or repair]." That may be the origin of the usage "foo.") And a lot of your readers will know that, so just be aware before you use it in display type -- or body copy, for that matter.

You can find hundreds of examples of papers that either deemed the word acceptable or weren't aware of its vulgar links.

For the most part, I'd vote to keep it out of newspapers. (For God's sake, most of us need permission to put "sucks" in the paper.)

But it can be used to good effect. This headline, used at the Hill paper in D.C. on a story about a big e-mail screw-up, made me chuckle: I think it works for the audience.


At 9:37 PM, January 17, 2005, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

Note that in most cases, "snafu" is used incorrectly, usually to describe a foul-up or an aberration.

At 12:22 PM, January 18, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

And it's no wonder, considering that the definition at M-W says "confusion, muddle."

At 9:43 PM, January 19, 2005, Blogger Paul said...

Some years ago, my then housemate broke into laughter because I'd used the term snafu in a 72pt head. You see I'd been taught that it stood for Situation Normal All Fouled Up. The Macquarie dictionary offers that as one of the possible etymologies. In the context of New Zealand and Australian cultural values. Elsewhere, if in doubt, cut it out.


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