Metasyntactic Variable

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What Does Metasyntactic Variable Mean?

A metasyntactic variable is a type of variable used by application developers as a placeholder name or alias term. It is unlike more commonly used logical variables and may contain any symbol or word that does not violate the rules of the language, although most metasyntactic variables are nonsensical words selected for uniqueness.


Techopedia Explains Metasyntactic Variable

Variable name creation is challenging, especially for programmers who teach specific programming language syntax or algorithms. Metasyntactic variable naming is used a temporary solution that provides greater clarity than random letters or words.

The following are examples of common metasyntactic variables:

  • MIT/Stanford: foo, bar, baz, guux
  • CMU: foo, bar, thud, grunt
  • Python programmers: spam, ham eggs
  • Common in England: o oogle, foogle, boogle o zork, gork, bork

Of all metasyntactic variables, “foo” is the most common.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.