Whatchamacallit, Whosywhatsit and Thingamajig

Yesterday I was having breakfast with my four year old daughter and I was asking her to pass the cereal. I couldn’t remember the name of it, so I said “pass the whatchamacallit”. My daughter burst out laughing thinking it was the funniest word in the world. She also thought I made it up.

I explained to her that whatchamacallit is a word you say when you can’t remember the name for something. Looking it up in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), I discovered it’s a pronunciation for what-you-may-call-it. According to the OED, the first known reference to it in print goes back to 1928 and it’s mainly heard in the U.S.

The OED also mentions what-d’ye-call-‘em dating back to at 1639. I’ve never heard it this way and I assume that’s the way it’s heard in Britain.

After getting such a laugh from my daughter out of saying whatchamacallit, I couldn’t resist finding other similar words to say to her. I next came up with thingamajig which got another laugh.

Thingamajig goes back to 1824 and it’s another word you can say in English when you forget the name of something.

The OED also mentions thingamobob which is seen in print even farther back… 1751. I’ll have to remember to say this one to my daughter too! They also mention, thingummy and thing-o-me which I’ve never heard of in the U.S.

Today, I thought of whosywhatsit. The OED hasn’t even acknowledged this word yet! It’s generally used when you forget a person’s name (but can also be used if you forget the name of an object). That one got a big laugh too.

I’m happy to have found such an easy way to make my daughter laugh. If you know of any other funny words, or if you’d like to let us know what you say in your language when you can’t think of the name of something, please comment below!

This article was posted on Tuesday, February 28th, 2006 at 3:16 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, English, Languages, Mama Lisa, Thingamabob, Thingamajig, United Kingdom, USA, Whatchamacallit, Whosywhatsit, Words & Phrases. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Whatchamacallit, Whosywhatsit and Thingamajig”

  1. Monique Says:

    In French we say “un truc”, “un machin”, “un bidule” and also “un truc-machin”, “un truc bidule” or “un machin-chose”.
    In Occitan, we say “un daquòs”.
    In Spanish, “chisme” is the word I always heard my grandparents say, but you can also say “chirimbolo” that you can find in the song “El juego chirimbolo” on both Mama Lisa’s World and Mama Lisa’s World en français Spain pages.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I asked Monique about the French equivalent to “whosywhatsit”, specifically referring to a person whose name you don’t know or can’t remember. She said…

    If it’s a person, an equivalent in French to whosywhatsit would be either…

    Machin/Machine (with a capital M), or

    Monsieur Machin / Madame Machin(e)

    You can say Madame Machin too (without the e), Madame says it’s a woman, so Machin can be left in the masculine as if it were Madame Dupont, Durand or any usual name.

    Thanks for the clarification Monique!

  3. Ann Cook Says:

    I loved hearing that these words made your child laugh. I was once trying to teach how to make an origimi folded box to my son’s 6th grade class, and of course, my brain completely dried up right as I was about to give the final instructions that turned it from a wrinkled piece of paper to an actual box. Mostly to myself, I said, “I’m totally discombobulated”. Raucus ululations of sustained laughter. They’d never heard the word and somehow it tickled their collective funnybone. Which discombobulated me still further. One of the boys rescued me with a few deft folds, and everyone ended up with a paper box. This, along with my absent minded secretary who never used a noun when a thingy would do, prompted me to come up with Mr. Thingamajig. You can see him at our language site: http://www.AmericanAccent.com. Foreign born people find this topic fascinating. I once had an Indian gentleman query me with, “But, Ma’am, what exactly is the difference between a thingamajig and a thingamabob.” Once again, I was discombobulated.

  4. Stephen Says:

    The only thing extra I might add is a doozihidget (doo-ze-hij-it)…. something like that. I’m pretty sure that’s one :D

  5. colwickite Says:

    TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

    I’ve been told the flabberknackles come adrift from its shank.
    And caused the whatchermacallit to slip into the second crank.
    This in turn has stripped the bearings of the flippit to the core
    Causing the oojamaflop to shed its casings on the floor.
    Now the thingymajig has twisted and thrown the staxis out of sync
    And the eckythump has ruptured and is purple now, not pink.
    This has wrecked the doodleflax which needs to be replaced,
    And until it is, the gastermask might melt the interface.
    And if that were to happen, I’d need a brand new phlanx.
    And I tell them to go ahead and offer them my thanks.
    But to add insult to injury, with a sharp intake of breath,
    They tell me it’s expensive and scare me half to death.
    I still don’t know what’s wrong though it’s been explained to me.
    But when it’s done and paid for, I’ll get my M.O.T!

    Joy James

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