Roughly when did the word "snafu" enter the colloquial vernacular? It was a military term, but at some point it came into fairly common use among the general population. If you can narrow it down to a decade or so, that's good enough for me.

Additionally, if you could, tell me how you figured out the answer (teaching a man to fish and all...)

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    Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/68954/… – nxx Apr 10 '14 at 2:12
  • The very bottom line short answer is: it is slang from WW2. Note that FUBAR is also from WW2. But, I believe BOHICA only came along with the war in Vietnam. – Fattie Apr 10 '14 at 8:00

According to the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) at BYU, snafu began appearing in popular print in the 1940s; in fact, the 1940s is the decade which has the most citations, at 22. For example, an "Army & Navy: Joe & Joe" column in the November 30, 1942 issue of Time provides the basic definition and a few examples.

This matches the Google Ngram. Appearances prior to 1940 appear to be OCR errors or nonsense words, but by 1943 you can find the term used in publications ranging from Yachting magazine to Life to the University of Michigan alumni magazine.

Google NGram for snafu

See Google NGram

A letter to the editor in the same complains:

… [Y]ou use the word "snafu." I find this puzzling because it is not listed in any dictionary, nor does it sound like any slang I have heard before.

to which the editors respond

Snafu is a service slang word compounded out of the initial letters of the words in a phrase politely translated: "Situation normal, all fouled up." Pernicious snafu is somethings called susfu, or "Situation unchanged,still fouled up."

By the end of the war, evidently, editors no longer needed to define the term for their audiences. Either its use in plays, films, and publications of the era or the omnipresence of the phenomenon in wartime had made it singularly useful.

  • An outstanding answer to Pete's fundamental question "teaching a man to fish and all...". – Fattie Apr 10 '14 at 8:02
  • The Ngram doesn't show for me. – Hugo Apr 10 '14 at 8:33
  • Wow, that was just an awesome answer to my questions! Thanks so much. Google has so much stuff. I'm sure I've seen the NGram at some point or another, but I had completely forgotten it. You have saved me a ton of time in the future! – Pete Apr 10 '14 at 21:32
  • @Hugo I wonder if it's the https in the link? – Pete Apr 10 '14 at 21:34
  • @Pete: I do have HTTPS Everywhere installed, but disabling it or removing the https don't make a difference. Right clicking and opening in a new tab shows it, but it's not really an image so perhaps that's the problem. – Hugo Apr 11 '14 at 7:38

As I have watched many military themed movies, I believe it has been in continual use since WWII's veterans returned to the US. It would be interesting to understand the popularity of a word in relation to box office


1941, U.S. military slang, acronym for situation normal, all fucked up, "an expression conveying the common soldier's laconic acceptance of the disorder of war and the ineptitude of his superiors" ["Oxford English Dictionary"]. As an adjective from 1942. In public explanations the word typically was euphemised to fouled.

  • Characters named Snafu:Snafu (Homeboys in Outer Space (1996)) Pvt. Snafu (Booby Traps (1944)) PFC Merriell 'Snafu' Shelton (The Pacific (2010)) Snow White (Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge (1937)) President Snow (The Hunger Games (2012)) Jon Snow (Game of Thrones (2011)) Ryaan Snow (Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City - Live Action Fan Trailer (2012)) Snow Queen (Nutcracker on Ice (2009)) Snow Job (G.I. Joe (1985)) Snuffy Smith (Take Me to Your Gen'rul (1962)) – Third News Apr 10 '14 at 2:25
  • Movies with Snafu in title: Snafu (2014) (TV Series) Snafu (1945) Snafu (1976) (TV Movie) Operation Snafu (1961) My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (2013) (TV Series) imdb.com/find?q=snafu&s=all – Third News Apr 10 '14 at 2:32
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    Why all the "snow" characters in the first list? – Oldcat Apr 10 '14 at 18:22

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