Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Tao of Foo

The internet is an overflowing font of serendipity. It's Easter, I'm on call, and I'm surfing the web between phone calls. A Google blog search for etymology led me to a post about the word foo at Goldblog, written by Corey Goldberg. Sorry, Corey, my knowledge of computer programming hasn't progressed beyond the class I took in BASIC computer language in college, so I don't understand most of your blog, but I was interested to find out that foo is your favorite word.

Apparently, foo is used a lot in writing computer code. Corey provides a link to a lengthy document entitled "Etymology of 'Foo'" by D. Eastlake 3rd, C. Manros, and E. Raymond. As I read through it, I was struck by the following:

The earliest documented uses were in the surrealist "Smokey Stover" comic strip by Bill Holman about a fireman.

This brought back memories of weekly trips to my grandparents' house a mile down the road on Sunday afternoons. We would come home with the Sunday paper. The Millers would drive into the drug store in Syracuse Sunday mornings to buy the paper, because I don't believe it was even possible to get home delivery where we lived. For me, one of the highlights of the funnies was Smokey Stover, with his two-wheeled fire engine and various crazy gadgets. At the time, I didn't appreciate the surreal quality of the comic strip, but that was part of its appeal. As you might expect, there is an official Smokey Stover web site, and it is quite interesting. I had to go there to refresh my memory about Smokey. One thing I had forgotten was that Smokey's creator, Bill Holman, had grown up in Nappanee, Indiana, just a few miles from my hometown of Milford. I had also forgotten that the word foo appeared frequently in the comic strip, and Smokey's vehicle was the foomobile. Holman claimed he had seen the word on the base of a Chinese figurine. According to Eastlake, Manros, and Raymond, the Chinese word fu (transliterated as foo), can mean "happiness," and might have appeared on a Chinese statuette.

Foo, or rather foo-foo, is a popular term around our house. Early in my relationship with our annoying apricot poodle, Sid Vicious, I started to call him Foo-Foo. I'm not sure where I got the term. Maybe from the Muppets, because I have just learned from my web surfing that Miss Piggy had a dog named Foo-Foo. It just seems appropriate for a small poodle. We have also converted it into a verb, as in "The puppies are going to the groomer to be foo-fooed," meaning they will return in a state that no self-respecting coon hound would find himself in. Foo-foo can also be an adjective, as in "She is going to Starbucks to get a foo-foo coffee." I have also learned today that the closely related word frou-frou comes from the French and means "fussy or showy dress or ornamentation." It can also mean "a rustling sound, as of silk."

Finally, as we complete our serendipitous sojourn through the world wide web, let us note that a character named Le Comte de Frou Frou appeared in Episode 3, "Nob and Nobility," of the BBC comedy Blackadder III, starring Rowan Atkinson.

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