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, however the original military acronym stood for "Status Nominal: All Fucked Up." It is sometimes bowdlerized 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 sometimes used as an interjection. SNAFU also sometimes refers to a bad situation, mistake, or cause of trouble. It is more commonly used in modern vernacular 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 was first recorded in American Notes and Queries in their September 1941 issue. Time magazine used the term in their June 16, 1942 issue: "Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu." 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 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 or similar. It is used in a military context, was first recorded in the American Notes and Queries in their September 1941 issue.
- Neary, Lynn. "Fifty Years of 'The Cat in the Hat'". NPR. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
'Situation Normal All . . . All Fouled Up,' as the first SNAFU animated cartoon put it
- "Hospital Staff Cutback Blamed for Test Result Snafu", in: The New York Times, May 19 2005.
- A Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, R. W. Burchfield, ed., Volume IV Se-Z, 1986.
- The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944 (part of The Liberation Trilogy) by Rick Atkinson.
- Rawson's Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk. Chicago, IL 2002, Hugh Rawson.
- Elkin, Frederick (March 1946), "The Soldier's Language", American Journal of Sociology, The University of Chicago Press, 51 (5 Human Behavior in Military Society): 414–422, JSTOR 2771105
- Hakim, Joy (1995). A History of Us: War, Peace and all that Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509514-6.
- 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.