JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A New Year’s Etymology Lesson

Sunday night (New Year’s Eve) over supper with family and friends (Lillian’s extraordinary Swedish Meatballs with her secret ******berry ingredient and homemade egg noodles), we had one of those end-of-the-year conversations about the state of things.

We decided things are not so good.

Oh, our personal lives are pretty much OK, considering those around the table had survived car crashes, falls on ice, COVID and burials of a lot of friends (a function of our age). Bottom line: We’re still here. And we had each other, around a table.

But the state of the world — bombs going off daily on two continents and homeless and possibly starving people in Ukraine and Gaza and in long caravans from Central America headed for the U.S. border — is not good. The word most often used to describe the state of the world right now is “sad.”

The fact that we sat around a warm table with plates overflowing with good food, while thousands — maybe millions — of our fellow human beings shivered in the cold with nothing to eat, indeed made us sad.

The word most used to describe the state of our country is “ugly.” There’s an ugliness in the land. We’re a sharply divided country, the product of a former president who’s convinced millions — I think — of our fellow Americans, that we’re a nation of bad guys and good guys, with nothing in between. And the other guys — us — are the bad guys. All of us.

Indeed, if Donald Trump wants to use the word “poison,” as he has been lately, let it apply to himself. He has poisoned our political system to the point where an election year is likely to bring untold numbers of heretofore unthinkable chaotic events into our daily lives. Already, we find ourselves, at least at our house, turning off the 6 o’clock news before it ends because we don’t want to ruin our entire evenings.

You know what I’m talking about. I don’t need to go into examples.

Later in the evening on the last night of the year, I sat alone in my recliner after everyone had gone home or to bed and thought about that dinner conversation. How has our world, and our country, come to this?

Trying hard to put on a smile the end of my day, and my year, two words from my long ago military service days (52 years ago I celebrated New Year’s Eve in San Francisco at the end of a long deployment in the Gulf of Tonkin) came into my head.



You might be a little familiar with them. Here’s their etymology.



For my fellow English Majors out there, SNAFU is a noun. It’s a situation that is really messed up but not so unusual, something that happens from time to time. FUBAR is an adjective, describing a SNAFU that is unusual and has gone really, really bad.

The genesis of both is from military slang in World War II.

The Oxford English Dictionary says SNAFU is “an expression conveying the common soldier’s laconic acceptance of the disorder of war and the ineptitude of his superiors.”

The OED says FUBAR is ”bungled, ruined, messed up.”

From my Navy days, in various ports of call, I can remember it describing someone who is extremely intoxicated. “We’ve got to get Tom back to the ship. He’s FUBAR.”

I don’t think we have a SNAFU in the U.S. right now because what’s going on in politics in America is not “normal.”

But I think our country is FUBAR right now. I really am worried about what 2024 will bring. I’m not going to go into a litany of what’s wrong. You know. Read the paper. Watch the news. And cinch up your saddle really tight. It’s going to be a rough ride.

One thought on “JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A New Year’s Etymology Lesson”

  • dan January 2, 2024 at 3:16 pm

    been having the same conversations at our house…gonna be really tuff political year…thanks dan


Leave a Reply