Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thingamajigs and Doodads

Have you ever had a moment when you just couldn't think of the word for something? Usually it feels like the word is at the edge of your mind, evilly taunting you with the fact that you can't remember it. You could just trail off in your sentence as you search your mind for the word, but most often our brains help us out by remembering a placeholder name to fill in the gap so the sentence can continue on.

There are a multitude of types of placeholder names that exist in the English language. They can refer to anything from people to objects, and can be used to fill in for temporarily forgotten words or just be used when using the exact word isn't important. Today we're going to look at just a small sample of them in hopes that they'll come in handy someday, whether you're a native or non-native speaker of English.

English contains a plethora of placeholder names for objects such as thingamajig, thingy, thingumabob, whatchamacallit, and whatsit. The terms doodad, doohickey, and gizmo are also popular, though they are more often used in reference to a gadget of some kind. Most people choose to use only one or two of these terms due to personal preference and regional linguistic influences.

This puppy has forgotten what he wanted to say too!
There are tons of placeholder names for people in various situations. In legal proceedings, an unnamed person is generally known as John Doe or Jane Doe in the United States and Canada. In the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, Joe Bloggs and John Smith are used instead. If you can't think of the name of someone, you might call them Joe Schmo, and if it's a few men, you might say any Tom, Dick and Harry, whose names you might recognize as the three main male characters on the 1990s tv show 3rd Rock from the Sun.

If you're ever talking to someone and forget their name, it's probably best not to just call them "you". When you feel too awkward to ask someone their name (again) or are just friendly with them, you can sometimes use placeholder names instead. The list is seemingly endless: bro, sis, amigo, dude, dudette, dawg, shorty, buddy, and so on. However, you should be careful using these, as they could cause some awkward situations if you don't know the person well enough or they don't like such terms.

There are plenty of other placeholder names used in everyday speech. A bug is actually any insect or arthropod, while critter can be used for any animal, and varmint can be used for any obnoxious animal. Language that makes no sense to the listener can be called gobbledegook or gibberish, though as language enthusiasts we encourage you to only use these terms when you know the person is just not making any sense in English, as opposed to calling every foreign language "gibberish" just because you don't know it.