I have looked at the answers to the question Can anyone tell me what the suffix “‑fu” stands for?, and I understand what it means.

When, though, did it come into use? Does its spread coincide with the spread of martial arts in the English-speaking world? Are there other examples that appear around the same time, or is this borrowing unique at this time?

I have read the Wikitionary article, and I could not find anything in Etymonline.


3 Answers 3



The most well known is arguably Google-fu which is first in Usenet on 27th September 2002 in a comp.sys.mac.advocacy post by James Boswell:

Have you ANY idea how much a Wildcat 6210 costs? ( http://www.3dlabs.com/product/wildcatIII_6210_index.htm )

* google fu *

£1900 + VAT (that's 17.5% here)

Followed soon later on 29th October 2002 in rec.music.christian:

hope that helps. and practice your google fu, young one. ;)

And on 19th December 2002 in alt.arts.poetry.comments:

I had gavagai told to me in an intro philosophy or an intro linguistics class. wtf? is my google fu so much better than yours, grasshopper?

There's approximately 32 results in 2003, ~121 in 2004, ~279 in 2005, ~318 in 2006 and ~410 in 2007.


13th July 2000 in rec.arts.anime.misc:

Luckily, I'm one of those UNIX/Web developer/code fu types that one of the other posters referred to, so the money isn't really an issue for me.

2000: ~4 results, 2001: ~3 results, 2002: ~4 results, 2003: ~4 results, 2004: ~12 results, 2005: ~32 results, 2006: ~46 results, 2007: ~94 results.


29th May 1998 in aus.computers.sun:

Plus I like BSD-style unixes at home and sys v-style at work. Keeps me on my toes. good UNIX fu. {insert appropriate sound effects here}


18th November 1998 in alt.motd (from Soda.csua.berkeley.edu motd):

_ your Java fu is weak, grasshopper. Use a JIT.

"Your [X]-fu is weak, grasshopper" is a common pattern and may be the source.

Your kung fu is weak, grasshopper

This seems to be inspired by the 1972–1975 television series Kung Fu. The protagonist Kwai Chang Caine often had flashbacks to his childhood lessons, when his kung fu master called him Grasshopper. This is the source of other similar phrases such as "patience, grasshopper", and from the pilot):

Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Caine: No.
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Listen to a .wav file.

  • 1
    Excellent! This really makes it clear to me.
    – Jimbob
    Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 10:04
  • 1
    Although having read Brendon's answer, Joe Bob Briggs' influence must be another strong factor.
    – Hugo
    Commented Nov 11, 2011 at 11:27
  • I don't think it's the show Kungfu that popularized it. More likely IP-Man, The Karate Kid, and Kung-fu Panda.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 15:50
  • The most famous use of -fu has got to be ShaqFu, right? (Although, if you look at it seriously, this popular usage predates the 4 examples listed above)
    – user116680
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 20:58
  • 2
    Pacerier, as a native informant in this matter (I was young in the US in the 70's), the original reference is definitely to the Kung Fu television series. That series in turn was obviously inspired by Bruce Lee and ultimately Yip Man. Karate Kid and Kung fu Panda are later derivatives whose inspiration is more diffuse. Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 20:31

The suffix -fu does indeed relate to martial arts, specifically the art of kung-fu. According to the Double Tongued Dictionary, a source which claims to represent "[a] lexicon of fringe English, focusing on slang, jargon, and new words," it was popularized by film critic Joe Bob Briggs, who uses it throughout his reviews.

This thread on Metacritic might also be of help. It discusses the origin, which some members also connect to Briggs, and provides alternate attributions.

  • Thanks, Brendon. It seems from these sources that Joe Bob Briggs is the originator. The metafilter thread took me to the Jargon File that has an entry for -fu, but I'm not sure which is more reliable. Probably the film critic one, though.
    – Jimbob
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 15:31
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    +1 on Joe Bob Briggs being the source. I thought I was going to be the first one with this cite. Well done, Brendon.
    – The Raven
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 16:09
  • 1
    Some good Usenet citations at Double Tongued Dictionary, and just look at all that Joe Bob Briggs fu! Any idea when he started doing it?
    – Hugo
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 21:04
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    @Hugo I'm glad I discovered it, I'd never heard of it before this question and it seems like it might be helpful in the future.
    – Brendon
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 21:05
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    @Hugo I know that he was using it back in the 1980's when I read him in the local Dallas entertainment paper.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 21:45

The term "-fu" is borrowed from the martial art of "kung-fu", and in usages other than that, it has come to refer to one's skill in a particular area, especially those requiring knowledge or logic.

I first heard the term -fu in this context in the movie "The Core", as part of "kung-fu", but as a metaphor for computer skill. In the movie, there is a computer hacker hired by the government to suppress communication regarding the extreme events happening in relation to the Earth's inner core having stopped spinning. When referring to his ability to do so, he says "my kung-fu is strong", an obvious reference to martial-arts B-movies common in "geek culture". The suffix "-fu" has since been severed, and applied to more specific computer terms, such as "Google-fu" (referring to one's skill in finding information using a search engine) or "coding-fu" (referring to programming skill or familiarity with a language or IDE).

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