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I've done some online etymological research on the word "whatnot", but I've been unable to figure out why it is a construction of "what" and "not".

How does the combination of the words "what" and "not" relate to the meaning of "whatnot" (simply, anything)?

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4 Answers 4

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I think of it as a contraction of "what[ever was] not [mentioned]" - i.e., everything else. I don't know whether that's etymologically correct, though.

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Exactly, but I think it would have been something more like "and what not to [include]" (a variant without the ever). In any case, what we have here is a failure to imaginate -- even though we leave things out of our conversations all of the time and live in a world that abbreviates nearly everything, we sometimes manage to forget that other people have left things out for convenience in the past as well. Sometimes things just stay left out. –  bye Feb 22 '11 at 21:15
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Whatnot was originally a placeholder name like whatsit or thingamebob for miscellaneous trifling items. It is just something that did not have an obvious name.

It later became a word describing furniture for holding such things, typically a small stack of corner shelves. Etymonline gives 1530s for the first use and 1808 for the second.

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Yep, saw all that stuff. Still not quite an answer to my question though. I understand how whatsit is related (what is it), but whatnot still stumps me. –  Chris Dwyer Feb 22 '11 at 20:25
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@Chris Dwyer As you have done some research already, you may include all that in your question. –  user3812 Feb 23 '11 at 8:49
    
@Dante I didn't see it as necessary for someone to sufficiently answer the question... which was why the two words (what and not) combine to mean what "whatnot" means. Obviously, my research didn't come up with an answer to this question. Henry didn't answer the question at all, but skirted around it by merely defining it and citing its first recorded use. –  Chris Dwyer Feb 23 '11 at 14:54
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@Chris Dwyer: I was trying to be helpful. If you look at Google images for a whatnot then you will see the furniture (and Muppets). The name for the funiture comes from the miscellaneous items displayed on it (so that is its etymology). The placeholder name for the items themselves doesn't seem to have any more of an etymology than thingamebob does. It is just some words/sounds strung together for something not given a useful description. –  Henry Feb 23 '11 at 15:46
    
That's fine. Perhaps your post would've been better as a comment instead of an answer? Also, if you think that there is no etymological reason for "what" and "not" coming together to mean what "whatnot" means, then that should be your answer. No worries though - no downvote... but no upvote either. :) –  Chris Dwyer Feb 23 '11 at 16:09
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I had always assumed that whatnot is an abbreviation of sorts for a exclamation like "My, what isn't on that list!"

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Coming in late here, but I believe that wot is an archaic British word meaning "to know", so I always assumed that whatnot was a corruption of wot not, "to know not".

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OED gives the etymology at a combination of what and not, not wot and not. –  Matt Эллен Nov 15 '12 at 10:44
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