View OED entry

FAQ noun earlier than 1989

Patrick of Boston has now provided evidence from 28 Dec. 1987.

FAQ is an initialism from Frequently Asked Questions, used as the name for a list of questions and answers. The term was originally associated with the Usenet discussion system, and has been attributed to Eugene N. Miya, a researcher at NASA, who is said to have coined it around 1983 in documents relating to the history of the space programme. The OED’s entry from 2001 has an earliest date of 1991, but we’ve recently found even earlier evidence, 1989, in the Usenet archives on Google Groups:

1989 Re: Frequently asked Questions in these Groups deserve Monthly Posting in comp.unix.questions (Usenet newsgroup) 5 June, It is quite easy to accidentally skip a note, and never see the FAQ list at all.

However, we still haven’t found any evidence to verify the story of the 1983 coinage. Can you help?

Watch OED editor Fiona McPherson explain this appeal below:

Posted by OED_Editor on 1 October 2012 19.05
Comments: 14

  • Alexmc

    http://groups.google.com/group/net.announce/browse_frm/thread/a195649dd50502fa#
    Title of the post is “changed Sun Jan 29 14:11:10 1984: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions”
    http://groups.google.com/group/net.announce.newusers/browse_frm/thread/9e59becccb41b06a#

    Title “Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (Last changed: 6 November 1985)Neither uses FAQ.http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.c/msg/044d937628bce67c?dmode=sourceEarliest I can find with the word FAQ; dated 26 May 1989

    • OED_Editor

       Thank you! We do have earlier evidence for the full phrase ‘Frequently Asked Questions’–the OED entry has a 1980 example from an instruction booklet for a telephone, and even earlier evidence in nontechnical contexts. It’s only the abbreviated form ‘FAQ’ that we’re seeking now. 26 May 1989 is a little earlier than the 5 June that we had; can we do better still?

      • Patrick of Boston

        A certain Steven Grady uses the term in a December 28, 1987 post:

        https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups=#!topic/news.misc/NvXdt8IfRwE

        And that was just a quick search of the Usenet archives. I’m sure someone with a few hours could do a better job.

        • OED_Editor

           Thank you! The Google Groups archives of Usenet are finicky and often very difficult to search, even for unambiguous terms like ‘FAQ’. So it’s certainly possible that there are even earlier examples that remain to be found there.

          • Patrick of Boston

            Well, I spent some time searching and (barring some fortuitous discovery) it appears this Steven Grady was the first to use the acronym on Usenet. The way in which Mr. Grady clarifies the acronym with the entire phrase in quotation marks leads me to speculate that his was the first instance — at least online. Based on his info in his own post, finding him was easy. Perhaps you could contact him? Here’s his Google + page:

            https://plus.google.com/109297255103927093425/posts

          • Tjfarrel

             yes: Grady’s first usage of “frequently asked questions” is clearly  noun modified by a participle modified by an adverb; but when he invokes “FAQ” it is clearly a new noun, by which he means the site on (what we would now call) a website devoted to the function of streamlining the response to emergent issues.

          • Patrick of Boston

            The reason why I suggest contacting him is to ask if he has any recollections; perhaps in the recesses of his memory he knows whether he fashioned the acronym himself or if he borrowed it. It has been 25 years but I think the potential reward might merit the time spent in a quick e-mail.

          • Hugo

            Google’s Usenet archives are indeed finicky and difficult to use (surprising for a search engine company) and usually sorting by date returns no results, even when there are plenty when sorted by relevance. Also there’s a way to search only Google Groups, but unfortunately no way to search only Usenet.

            Here’s some tips.1. From https://groups.google.com/, click Advanced Groups Search.2. Enter your search term(s) in the top box(es), for example: FAQ or FAQs3. Change the from date in “Return messages posted between” to the first possible: 1 Jan 19814. Change the end date, if you have something you want to antedate, for example 19895. Click Advanced Search–> Check the results6. If there’s lots of targets, you can move the end date earlier to and search again exclude a load, to help hone in on the earliest mention. (Most of the time you should ignore non-Usenet posts because they are misdated; they  can be recognised by only a single blue linked line compared to the double line linked Usenet posts, but sometimes these will be useful. They also follow the Usenet posts.)7. Repeat step 6 as required.In this way, you can immediately find Patrick and Steven’s 28th December 1987 FAQ at the top of the list after step 5. 
            Hope that helps!

        • OED_Editor

           For the record, here’s the 1987 example, in OED style:

          1987 _frequently asked questions_ in news.misc (Usenet newsgroup) 28 Dec., I propose instead that some mechanism be devised for each newsgroup to have a  list of FAQs.

  • lcsterling

    Not sure what it’s called in G.B., but in the U.S. FAQs may have originated with “documentation.”

    When computer hardware and software came into being, user manuals were created, with IBM leading the way.  FAQs were often part of the technical writing done for documentation.  This means it could date easily to the 70s.

  • salty

    My first experience with FAQ was in UNIX documentation. The UNIX crowd tended to abreviate everything. While I don’t have access to the old UNIX documentation files, it might be a place to look.

  • Bernard Smith

    FAQ means “fair average quality” when used to rate the quality of australian wheat.  I first heard this expressioin in the 1950s but I believe it would be older.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eugene.miya Eugene Miya

    Well, it didn’t happen instantaneously, it evolved over the course of time between 1982 to 1985. I last left my NET-SPACE in the hands of Jon Leech. Some of the chronology is in a stalled O’Reilly book project. It started on ARPAnet mailing lists when I saw the poor research skills of computer science students (mostly). I got tired of answering the same old basic questions. I went on to try other ideas of information organization, but this was only loosely part of my job. None of this was “inside NASA”, NASA had little networking at the time, in contrast to ARPA, IBM, and DEC. NASA had to compete for these CS students (with limited success).

    To understand the context of this, you have to understand that for a period the SPACE mailing list was gatewayed to the Usenet space news group (first net.space, then sci.space, then a hierarchy of space related topics denoted by sci.space.*). Over this time, other mailing lists and news groups started adopting FAQs and period posts (PP) a similar term coined by Mark Horton.

    When Usenet’s storage hierarchy got reorganized, someone (I have no idea who) suggested each of the Big-7 hierarchies (comp.*, sci.*, etc.) have one moderated subgroup with an *.answers designation (comp.answers, sci.answers, etc.). I’m a firm believer in simultaneous or even earlier development. It’s an irksome enough issue in a new media. Yes, the syntax and semantics of what I’ve written is technical, but that’s how it worked back then.

    BTW, you are merely the 3rd OED person to have this brought to my attention. I was in Oxford last year (a friend teaches at All Souls), and I visited OUP (I’m a book reviews editor for an academic quarterly). Additionally, I’m working with an English researcher being funded by the UK govt. to study the evolution of the English language for the next 2 years in the USA.

  • Steven Vaughan-Nichols

    Eugene is correct. I was working for NASA at the time and I recall noticing it at the time and thinking it was a useful addition. Also see: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/faqs/about-faqs/