I was having a conversation with a friend recently and he couldn’t remember the name of an object, so he called it a “doodad.” Thinking I may have known what he was talking about, but not knowing its actual name, I replied, “Oh, you mean the little “thingamajig.” I know it could have possibly been a whatchamacallit, thingamabob or even a doohickey, and if one thinks it’s one of those, then that must be what it is.
It’s interesting that there are so many such made up words in the English language. We all use them from time to time when we don’t know or can’t think of the word that we want to use, so we quickly come up with a substitute. We simply make up our own name, at least until we can remember the real name of the object.
There actually is a name for these words that we create. You English teachers know what they’re called. Right? They’re called synecdoches (si-nek-duh-kee), which are linguistic metaphors that are used in place of a word. In other words, a synecdoche is merely a term for a doodad, thingamajig or thingy. There are lots of other words like these that we use such as: whatnots, stuff, wotsits and gadgets, and we know that there are many more. We hear these words often, and I use them a lot. They are considered part of “American rhetoric.”
It also seems like there are a lot of things that just don’t have a name that’s easy to remember. Take, for instance, those pistol-shaped gizmos that you will be using agin soon to light your barbecue grills; what else can you call them besides “pistol-shaped fire starter gizmos?” Even now, I can’t think of their name.
We also use these words for people. We talk about “Tom, Dick and Harry.” Then there is the mysterious John and Jane Doe who must surely be friends with John and Mary Smith. Sometimes we hear about Joe Shmoe or that old so and so, whoever he is. Some of these folks may even live in Anytown, USA or Timbuktu (an actual place in Mali). There are also names of places that can be insulting or at least not so flattering, such as Hickville, Podunk or Boondocks. My friend Maurice Wiley in Northern Ireland told me New Zealanders use a term much like this in saying someone is from Waikikamukau, (Why-kick-a-moo-cow), meaning any remote rural town. I would say that many of us in the Midwest are from Waikikamukau.
We also very often use synecdoche in numbers, especially large numbers, and we exaggerate by saying: “Umpteen, oodles, scads, gazillion, squillian, bucketfuls and loads.”
One of my favorite numbers comes from Bilbo Baggins, a character in “The Lord of the Rings” who celebrated his eleventy-first birthday (one hundred eleven). I wonder if he celebrated in “Octember,” or perhaps his birthday party was on “Feb. 30” at “dark o’clock.” At any rate, he probably got scads of doodads and thingamajigs for his birthday.
By the way, one of the reasons I’m writing this Echoes column is in memory of my daughter’s growing-up years. As I remember all the doohickies, thingamajigs and whatchamacallits adorning her dresser, desk, walls and floors of her room during her growing-up years, I hesitated to ask her their real names.
And when we now get together, sharing the events of the day, she still has this habit of saying things like, “When I was working out, or whatever.” Well, we all know the expression “or whatever” is a way of saying, I’m collecting my thoughts before I go on with telling you what I did. So, in one way or another, we all use the doodad and thingamajig expressions to help us express ourselves.
And while I’m dealing with this subject, I’m hearing many echoes in my head from people who have made what is similarily called a “placeholder.” These are used as a figure of speech in which you use a part of something to stand for the whole thing. For instance: What does “I just got a new set of wheels” mean? Right. The wheels are referring to the whole car. And I recently heard someone exclaim: “We have a lot of good hands working on this project.” Meaning, there are a lot of good workers.
One expression I’ve used recently that fits the definition of a placeholder is when I arrived home and realized I didn’t have my charge card in my wallet. I said, “Oops, I forgot my plastic!”
So now that you’ve had your grammar lesson for the day, what have you heard, or said recently that fits this definition?
Oh, and by the way, writing this Echoes column is part of my “bread and butter.”