The other day, a friend and I were looking at how to unbolt a section from a desktop and noticed that the bolt had a flat head with a square slot on top, similar to a hex screw but with four sides instead of six. Neither of us knew the name of this type of screw. It turns out it’s a Robertson screw, but that’s irrelevant to my story. What is relevant is that I said we needed a doohickey screwdriver to get the screw unbolted and she knew exactly what I meant. These types of situations arise all the time where we don’t know the name of something, so we just use one of the general terms that applies to objects whose name is either irrelevant or unknown. These words have their own classification and are known as placeholder names.
There’s even a word that acts as both a placeholder name and as a synonym to the phrase placeholder names. In Flexner and Wentworth’s first edition of Dictionary of American Slang, they coined the word kadigan (also spelled cadigan) as a term to describe placeholder names. The word can also be used as a placeholder name itself, just like doohickey.
Remember Economics 101 when learning about elasticity of demand and price equilibrium? These lessons always mentioned widgets; universal eco-speak when referring to small unidentified manufactured items. Other well known placeholder names include hoozits, thingamabobs, whatits, and even yadda-yadda-yadda. There are other, less common, placeholder names and the list below is today’s contribution (in no particular order). So next time you come across some item whose name you’ve either forgotten or don’t know, impress your friends with one of these placeholder words.
3. gubbins (also, gubbings)
7. blivit (also, blivet)
12. dofunny (also, doofunny)