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SNAFU is an acronym that is widely used to stand for the sarcastic expression Situation normal: all fucked up. It is a well-known example of military acronym slang. It is sometimes censored to "all fouled up" or similar. It means that the situation is bad, but that this is a normal state of affairs. The acronym is believed to have originated in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.
In modern usage, SNAFU is used to describe running into an error or problem that is large and unexpected. For example, in 2005, The New York Times published an article titled "Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu". SNAFU also sometimes refers to a bad situation, mistake, or cause of trouble, and it is sometimes used as an interjection.
Most reference works, including the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, supply an origin date of 1940–1944, generally attributing it to the U.S. Army. Rick Atkinson ascribes the origin of SNAFU, FUBAR, and a bevy of other terms to cynical GIs ridiculing the army's penchant for acronyms.
The first known publication of the term was by The Kansas City Star, on July 27, 1941. It was subsequently recorded in American Notes and Queries in the September 1941 issue (which the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986 credited as the term's first appearance). Time magazine used the term in its June 16, 1942, issue: "Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu."
The attribution of SNAFU to the American military is not universally accepted: it has also been attributed to the British, although the Oxford English Dictionary gives its origin and first recorded use as U.S. military slang.
In a wider study of military slang, Elkin noted in 1946 that there "are a few acceptable substitutes such as 'screw up' or 'mess up,' but these do not have the emphasis value of the obscene equivalent." He considered the expression to be "a caricature of Army direction. The soldier resignedly accepts his own less responsible position and expresses his cynicism at the inefficiency of Army authority." He also noted that "the expression […] is coming into general civilian use."
SUSFU is an acronym for Situation unchanged: still fucked up, but can also be bowdlerized—just like SNAFU—to Situation unchanged: still fouled up. It is used in a military context and was first recorded in the ANQ in their September 1941 issue.
- "Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu", in: The New York Times, May 19 2005.
- The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944 (part of The Liberation Trilogy) by Rick Atkinson.
- A Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, R. W. Burchfield, ed., Volume IV Se-Z, 1986.
- Rawson's Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk. Chicago, IL 2002, Hugh Rawson.
- Acronym Finder's SNAFU entry
- How the term SNAFU originated
- SNAFU Principle
- Internet Archive: Private SNAFU – The Home Front (1943) – This is one of 26 Private SNAFU cartoons made by the US Army Signal Corps to educate and boost the morale of the troops.
- The SNAFU Special – Official website of the C-47 #43-15073
- Episode 101 (MP3 6M) of Command Performance from 15 Jan 1944 includes a song about SNAFU by the Spike Jones band.