Prof. John Banzhaf's First Law Article
Cited in Computer Study About Hackers

A recent study featured at Programmers, TechQuesStackExchange, and elsewhere of why words like "foo" are used by hackers and others so frequently in computer programming traced the original use of the word to the US Army WWII acronym FUBAR, “F-ed Up Beyond All Recognition.” 

That usage is similar to the more widely known word SNAFU, "Situation Normal All F-cked Up."  See also TARFU, "Things Are Really F-cked Up."

Then, the study credited the hacker culture at MIT with popularizing the word widely within the tech community where it was picked up by hackers and other programmers.  Interestingly, the article noted that hacking was popular at MIT as early as the 1950s, long before there were personal computers, and at a time when virtually all computers occupied huge air-conditioned rooms at banks, major universities, and very large businesses.


Yes, Virginia, students at MIT were hacking even in the 1950s, long before modern solid-state computers, PCs, the Internet, etc.

At that time MIT students hacked into the world-wide telephone and data transmission systems used by various branches of the Defense Department into which they obtained unauthorized access from phones in labs at MIT doing research and providing support for those military facilities. 

Indeed, it was not uncommon for a tech savvy student at MIT to phone his girl friend at Wellesley by way of a very very long distance but free call routed through Alaska, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and then the Panama Canal.  SEE, e.g., 
A Sad Tale Involving MIT's Phone System


In any event, one of those whom the report cited for helping to spread the word about "foo" as in "fubar" is John Banzhaf, then an MIT student, in his first law article.  As the report puts it:

"A year before the TMRC dictionary, 1958‘s MIT VooDoo Gazette ('Humor supplement of the MIT Deans’ office') (PDF) mentions Foocom, in 'The Laws of Murphy and Finagle' by John Banzhaf (an electrical engineering student)." 

MIT student Banzhaf wrote in 1958: "Further research under a joint Foocom and Anarcom grant expanded the law [Murphy's Law] to be all embracing and universally applicable: If anything can go wrong, it will!"  SEE:
Banzhaf, The Laws of Murphy and Finagle, Voodoo, 1958

Today, Banzhaf is better known as a public interest law professor who takes legal action regarding smoking and a large number of other problems. 

But, true to his MIT and computer heritage, he's also known for obtaining the first copyrights on computer programs, helping to persuade Congress to amend the U.S. copyright law to take into account data processing,
developing a computerized method for determining voting power in complex voting situations [the "Banzhaf Index"], and for writing one of the first major articles about the law related to computers.