Snafu solved

Douglas Potter can keep his SNAFU licence plate. The Whitehorse resident approached newspapers and radio earlier this week to protest the government's decision to recall the vanity plate...

Douglas Potter can keep his SNAFU licence plate.

The Whitehorse resident approached newspapers and radio earlier this week to protest the government’s decision to recall the vanity plate, which Potter says is simply an homage to his favourite fishing spot, Snafu Lake, found on Atlin Road just above the BC border.

But snafu is also salty military jargon, which is most politely rendered as “Situation Normal, All Fouled Up,” although the most popular definition is considerably more vulgar.

Either American or British soldiers invented the term during the Second World War, along with a related term, TARFU, which stands for “Things Are Really Fouled Up.”

Both words made their way onto the Yukon map in the early 1950s, shortly after the construction of the Atlin Road by the Canadian army engineers in 1949 and 1950. There’s a Snafu Creek, Snafu Lake and Tarfu Lake.

An official with Yukon’s motor vehicles branch tried to recall the SNAFU plate shortly after a friend of Potter’s asked for a TARFU vanity plate. The official found both terms in the branch’s long list of words deemed to be “offensive.”

Potter was offered a chance to appeal the decision. But now he won’t have to, after the registrar of motor vehicles ruled Wednesday morning that SNAFU could stay, and the TARFU plate would be allowed as well.

“Based on the fact they’re in common use, they’ve decided to exclude them from the so-called blue list and allow the plate to be issued,” said spokesman Matt King.

Both terms are found in the Yukon and Canadian databases of official place names, King noted. They’re also found in several territorial publications, including roadsigns, maps and wildlife regulations.

Potter is pleased with the outcome and doesn’t fault the official who tried to recall the plate. “He was just trying to do his job,” he said.

“It’s just really funny that they thought the word is offensive.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.