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2 definitions found
 for metasyntactic variable
From The Jargon File (version 4.4.7, 29 Dec 2003) :

  metasyntactic variable
   n.
  
      A name used in examples and understood to stand for whatever thing is under
      discussion, or any random member of a class of things under discussion. The
      word foo is the canonical example. To avoid confusion, hackers never
      (well, hardly ever) use ?foo? or other words like it as permanent names for
      anything. In filenames, a common convention is that any filename beginning
      with a metasyntactic-variable name is a scratch file that may be deleted
      at any time.
  
      Metasyntactic variables are so called because (1) they are variables in the
      metalanguage used to talk about programs etc; (2) they are variables whose
      values are often variables (as in usages like ?the value of f(foo,bar) is
      the sum of foo and bar?). However, it has been plausibly suggested that the
      real reason for the term ?metasyntactic variable? is that it sounds good.
      To some extent, the list of one's preferred metasyntactic variables is a
      cultural signature. They occur both in series (used for related groups of
      variables or objects) and as singletons. Here are a few common signatures:
  
      +-------------------------------------------------------------------------+
      |{foo, bar, |MIT/Stanford usage, now found everywhere (thanks largely |
      |baz, quux,  |to early versions of this lexicon!). At MIT (but not at  |
      |quuux,         |Stanford), baz dropped out of use for a while in the   |
      |quuuux...:     |1970s and '80s. A common recent mutation of this sequence|
      |               |inserts quxbefore quux.                              |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |bazola, ztesch:|Stanford (from mid-'70s on).                             |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |{foo, bar,  |This series was popular at CMU. Other CMU-associated     |
      |thud, grunt:   |variables include gorp.                                |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |               |Waterloo University. We are informed that the CS club at |
      |{foo, bar,  |Waterloo formerly had a sign on its door reading ?Ye Olde|
      |bletch:        |Foo Bar and Grill?; this led to an attempt to establish ?|
      |               |grill? as the third metasyntactic variable, but it never |
      |               |caught on.                                               |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |{foo, bar,  |This series is reported to be common at XEROX PARC.      |
      |fum:           |                                                         |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |{fred, jim,   |                                                         |
      |sheila, barney|See the entry for fred. These tend to be Britishisms.  |
      |:             |                                                         |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |{flarp:       |Popular at Rutgers University and among GOSMACS        |
      |               |hackers.                                                 |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |zxc, spqr,     |Cambridge University (England).                          |
      |wombat:        |                                                         |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |shme           |Berkeley, GeoWorks, Ingres. Pronounced /shme/ with a     |
      |               |short /e/.                                               |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |foo, bar, baz, |Yale, late 1970s.                                        |
      |bongo          |                                                         |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |spam, eggs     |{Python programmers.                                    |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |snork          |Brown University, early 1970s.                           |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |{foo, bar,  |Helsinki University of Technology, Finland.              |
      |zot            |                                                         |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |blarg, wibble|New Zealand.                                             |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |toto, titi,    |France.                                                  |
      |tata, tutu     |                                                         |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |pippo, pluto,  |Italy. Pippo /pee'po/ and Paperino /pa?per?ee'?no/ are   |
      |paperino       |the Italian names for Goofy and Donald Duck. Pluto, of   |
      |               |course, is Mickey's dog.                                 |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |aap, noot, mies|The Netherlands. These are the first words a child used  |
      |               |to learn to spell on a Dutch spelling board.             |
      |---------------+---------------------------------------------------------|
      |oogle, foogle, |These two series (which may be continued with other      |
      |boogle; zork,  |initial consonents) are reportedly common in England, and|
      |gork, bork     |said to go back to Lewis Carroll.                        |
      +-------------------------------------------------------------------------+
  
      Of all these, only foo and bar are universal (and baz nearly so). The
      compounds foobar and foobaz also enjoy very wide currency. Some jargon
      terms are also used as metasyntactic names; barf and mumble, for
      example. See also Commonwealth Hackish for discussion of numerous
      metasyntactic variables found in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.
  

From The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (30 December 2018) :

  metasyntactic variable
  
      Strictly, a variable used in metasyntax, but
     often used for any name used in examples and understood to
     stand for whatever thing is under discussion, or any random
     member of a class of things under discussion.  The word foo
     is the canonical example.  To avoid confusion, hackers never
     (well, hardly ever) use "foo" or other words like it as
     permanent names for anything.
  
     In filenames, a common convention is that any filename
     beginning with a metasyntactic-variable name is a scratch
     file that may be deleted at any time.
  
     To some extent, the list of one's preferred metasyntactic
     variables is a cultural signature.  They occur both in series
     (used for related groups of variables or objects) and as
     singletons.  Here are a few common signatures:
  
     foo, bar, baz, quux, quuux, quuuux...: MIT/Stanford usage,
     now found everywhere.  At MIT (but not at Stanford), baz dropped
     out of use for a while in the 1970s and '80s.  A common recent
     mutation of this sequence inserts qux before quux.
  
     bazola, ztesch: Stanford (from mid-'70s on).
  
     foo, bar, thud, grunt: This series was popular at CMU.
     Other CMU-associated variables include ack, barf, foo, and
     gorp.
  
     foo, bar, fum: This series is reported to be common at
     Xerox PARC.
  
     fred, barney: See the entry for fred.  These tend to be
     Britishisms.
  
     toto, titi, tata, tutu: Standard series of metasyntactic
     variables among francophones.
  
     corge, grault, flarp: Popular at Rutgers University and
     among GOSMACS hackers.
  
     zxc, spqr, wombat: Cambridge University (England).
  
     shme: Berkeley, GeoWorks, Ingres.  Pronounced /shme/ with a
     short /e/.
  
     foo, bar, zot: Helsinki University of Technology,
     Finland.
  
     blarg, wibble: New Zealand
  
     Of all these, only "foo" and "bar" are universal (and baz
     nearly so).  The compounds foobar and "foobaz" also enjoy
     very wide currency.
  
     Some jargon terms are also used as metasyntactic names; barf
     and mumble, for example.
  
     See also Commonwealth Hackish for discussion of numerous
     metasyntactic variables found in Great Britain and the
     Commonwealth.
  
     [{Jargon File]
  
     (1995-11-13)
  

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