Snafu :

  • Wow, you got yourself into one hell of snafu.

Problem :

  • Wow, you got yourself into one hell of problem.

Are the both sentences above equal ?

  • 1
    Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/68954/…
    – cobaltduck
    Feb 29, 2016 at 13:22
  • @cobaltduck thanks for the reply, but My question is about usage not about history of the word.
    – Amit Verma
    Feb 29, 2016 at 13:27
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    There is no notion of formal equivalence in English or any natural language. In many cases, two words are interchangeable, and other cases where they're not. It depends on your audience, the desired register, the connotations or shades of meaning you'd like to communicate, and a host of other factors. In short: it's probably fine, but keep an attentive eye on your audience.
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 29, 2016 at 13:28
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    SNAFU was invented for a comical writing piece from the 1940s, I think, that was making fun of the military's ineffectual methods and obsession with acronyms. SNAFU = Situation Normal: All Fucked Up. There was also TARFU and FUBAR, "Things Are Really Fucked Up" or "Totally And Royally Fucked Up" and "Fucked Up Beyond All Repair". Been a while, but I believe the piece had many others that are probably more funny if you've been in the Army.
    – user39425
    Feb 29, 2016 at 19:09
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    @fredsbend I thought the R in FUBAR was Recognition.
    – DCShannon
    Feb 29, 2016 at 19:21

5 Answers 5


Aside from the obscenity issue, there is a significant difference between "problem" and "snafu".

"Problem" simply means some sort of difficulty, of unspecified origin and history.

"Snafu" (or "SNAFU", if you prefer) refers to a situation where things have gotten "tied into a knot", so to speak, due to miscommunication, poor planning, multiple simultaneous failures, etc. Usually (but not always) the cause is human fallibility, but inevitably it's a problem which developed over a relatively short period, involving several factors.

Eg, if you're digging a hole and encounter a ledge of rock, that's a problem. If this occurs immediately after your boss decided you no longer needed the jackhammer and so sent it back to the rental place (which is now closed for the weekend), that's a snafu, especially if you're on a tight schedule.

  • 14
    I would slightly question your "a problem which developed over a relatively short period". I appreciate SNAFU now gets used for many one-off situations (as in Josh61's first quote), but to me, the key part of SNAFU is situation normal ... an implication that -- due to bureaucracy, incompetence or whatever -- the "broken" state is the normal one.
    – TripeHound
    Feb 29, 2016 at 16:43
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    @TripeHound - "Relatively short period" is, of course, relative. A snafu typically doesn't develop over years, but more typically over a period of weeks or months, and occasionally hours or days. (The "Charge of the Light Brigade" was a classical snafu, developing in hours due to bungled communications in the command hierarchy.) As to "situation normal", yes, the implication is that the problem is sadly "normal", given the bureaucracy, the competence of the managers and workers, etc.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 29, 2016 at 18:30

According to vocabulary.com snafu, the old possibly offensive military term, is nowadays used to refer to any kind of problem:

  • Snafu was originally a World War II-era military acronym standing for "situation normal: all fucked up." These days, a snafu is any mistake or problem.

  • The original, military meaning of snafu is obscene. However, since you don't actually say the f-word when saying snafu, just about no one is offended by this word these days. Back in the military, a snafu would have been a dangerous situation, but this word is used now for any kind of goof-up. Spilling soup or forgetting your tickets to a baseball game are snafus. Any error, glitch, or screwed-up situation can be called a snafu.

The OLD defines snafu as:

  • a situation in which nothing happens as planned It was another bureaucratic snafu.

The Grammarist comments that:

  • Snafu is a hard or complicated problem or the mistake that causes the confusing problem. The plural is snafus. It was coined in the 1940s as an acronym for ‘situation normal all fouled up’. It should be noted that this term is used mainly in the United States in informal situations.

Usage examples:

The owner of Rotterdam Square Mall is blaming National Grid for a billing snafu that reportedly nearly resulted in the shopping center’s utility service being cut this past weekend. [Albany Business Review]

Voting snafus are a perennial national embarrassment that have persisted even after the painful debacle of the 2000 presidential election. [Boston Globe]

  • 2
    The best answer, and the only one with sources. Not a coincidence.
    – DCShannon
    Feb 29, 2016 at 19:28
  • 1
    mmm...if I heard someone call spilled soup a snafu, I'd ask them, "how so?". That is not really how I've heard "snafu" used by the generation from which it originated (my parents' generation). Feb 29, 2016 at 23:39

First of all, you need to add an a before the final word: "into one hell of a problem."

Second, since you are already using hell to proceed the thing you have gotten yourself into, I assume you are amongst informal company that does not object to profanity. Given that snafu originates from Situation Normal All Fucked Up, if you can use the F-word with your listener, then you can also use snafu.

On the other hand, if speaking with elders, bosses, or in any formal setting at all, drop the hell and definitely use problem.

  • 1
    It doesn't seem as a general rule that a problem is something one gets into. A pickle, a mess, a situation, maybe. Or trouble.
    – DaveM
    Feb 29, 2016 at 13:42
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    Even if fucked up isn't something you want to use, fouled up will probably work.
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 29, 2016 at 15:07
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    In current British English I wouldn't regard "snafu" as obscene (notwithstanding the origin of the acronym) - certainly less obscene than "hell". It's acceptable for a BBC news story bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-32165790, and for a White House spokesman briefing reporters, according to time.com/3919613/barack-obama-trade-deal
    – alephzero
    Feb 29, 2016 at 18:48
  • an acronym that includes an obscene word is not considered obscene—that's the entire point of creating the acronym. i can't imagine anyone, anywhere taking offense to "snafu". your concerns appear to be made-up.
    – user428517
    Mar 1, 2016 at 0:08

Because of its origin SNAFU has a connotation of being snarled in red tape. I suggest saving snafu for situations where the problem is a result of systemic or bureaucratic circumstances.


Snafu is a military acronym meaning Situation Normal All Fucked Up. So no the it will not work in the given sentence structure.

  • 2
    Although that is the origin, the word is now often used synonymously with problem. It is also quite often heard as a verb - You got yourself snafued.
    – Chenmunka
    Feb 29, 2016 at 13:55
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    I'm with Dave. It's not a word, it's an acronym. It should be avoided in contexts where the speaker would not feel comfortable explaining the acronym.
    – John
    Feb 29, 2016 at 22:29

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