Peter McGraw mrlanguageperson at VERIZON.NET
Fri Mar 5 07:23:23 UTC 2010

I'm writing to the list with some trepidation, because my previous posts since I switched to my home e-mail have come through contaminated with lots of garbage.  My apologies in advance if that happens again.
Just in case this comes through in intelligible form...
My other vice besides language is model railroading.  In the service of this vice, I subscribe to the e-mail list of the Rock Island Technical Society.  There I have come across a word I had never heard before and did not find in any of the likely dictionaries I consulted.
The word is "foobie," and what it means for those who used it on the RI list is an inauthentic model.  A manufacturer produces a "foobie" by, e.g., making an accurate model of an engine used by the Pennsylvania Railroad and simply painting the same model in Rock Island livery, even though the Rock Island prototype differed in significant ways from the version used by the PR.  It's a common practice (though many manufacturers are now making an effort to be truer to prototype), so there are a lot of foobies out there, but I had never heard the word before last week.  Here are two quotes from messages to the RI list:
The first came in a discussion of a "fantasy" model of an engine soon to be released "just for fun" by a manufacturer (Athearn) in the livery of the RI and several other "fallen flags," even though that engine didn't exist yet when the respective prototype railroads either shut down or were absorbed by other roads.  Some modelers like an occasional "what if" model like this, but others wouldn't have one on their layout, including the author of this sarcastic comment:  "Just put some Intermountain RI cars behind it and you've got a complete foobie train."  The thread went on to discuss the many flaws in the authenticity of the models produced by Intermountain.
Later on in the discussion of Intermountain, somebody wrote:  "The PS2CD 4750's in the blue Did have the wrong car series....If you decide to change the number series with decals, they would be ok for the USRE built clones (I think they have the USRE symbol on the right side of the car), and all their reruns I think still use this car number series from the grey ptd car series. That's a 'fixable foobie', I guess. But you'd think they would have got it by now."
I queried the list about where and when people had first encountered the word and where it might have come from, to which someone answered: "RR guys have co-opted this term, but it is part of the urban dictionary....I first started seeing it on the Steam Era Freight Car list (STMFC) with a RR twist."  He said he thought he had first encountered it in the model railroad context "a few months ago."  
The entry in the Urban Dictionary ( that's the most plausible source of the model railroad use is: "Foobie, a compound word made up of fake, and boobies. To describe not only those wondrous silicon orbs that seem to abound everywhere these days, but any variety of artificially enhanced hooters. 
"'Duuude...check out those boobies.' 
"' foobies.'"
I don't know anything about the Urban Dictionary, so I don't know whether it's any kind of evidence for actual usage as opposed to self-conscious nonce creations, but clearly the word is in actual use at least by a few model railroaders, among whom it has caught on because it fills a lexical gap that was a concept in search of a word.
Has anyone else encountered "foobie" somewhere?
Peter McGraw

The American Dialect Society -

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