English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

A lot of people in my family use this word, not regularly, but enough for me to ask what it means.

I know it’s not a “real word”, but how come people from different sides of my family use it? It must mean something.

The way the word is used is for a word that doesn’t mean anything, like gobbeldygook.

share|improve this question
What an interesting question. I've never heard this word before. – JSBձոգչ Dec 12 '10 at 13:50
I keep trying to figure out what it might be a shortening of, as "whatchamacallit" is of "what you may call it", not because I'd necessarily expect it to be similar, but because it just sounds like it should be. – Jon Purdy Dec 12 '10 at 18:52
Since people use it, and each party knows what it means, it is certainly a “real word”. And as Stacker discovered below, it is even a documented word. – tchrist Mar 30 '13 at 19:50

Something like: dingbat, thingamabob or thingy .


1925 E. FRASER & J. GIBBONS Soldier & Sailor Words 215 Oojah (also Ooja-ka-pivi), a substitute expression for anything the name of which a speaker cannot momentarily think of, e.g. ‘Pass me that h-m, h-m, oojah-ka-pivi, will you?’ 1931 J. VAN DRUTEN London Wall II. ii. 73 There's a whole lot in the Oojah Capivvy now. 1962 Sunday Times 4 Feb. 31/6 This was the catch-phrase in a music-hall song in use during the first world war... I remember the line and the tune: ‘You cannot eat it, or see it, or hear it, you just ask for Ujah-ka-piv.’ 1966 ‘L. LANE’ ABZ of Scouse 78 Whur's ther ojah-capiff?, where is the hammer, spanner or whatever it might be? 1992 Hobart Mercury 8 Aug., There are several of Ms Bosanky's turns of phrase that are pure Downunder. For instance, ‘hoojah-kapippy’..or a ‘whatsitsname’ euphemism.

share|improve this answer
So, a placeholder of sorts... – user730 Dec 12 '10 at 12:20
Nice find. Plus 1. – Mehper C. Palavuzlar Dec 12 '10 at 17:35
Interesting, would be nice to know the etymology, if there ever was any. – Orbling Dec 13 '10 at 1:18

World Wide Words discusses this briefly: they suggest that ooja, oojah capivvy and variants originated in British Army argot around the time of WWI:

‘Pass the oojah.’ says the one-armed man who is playing billiards. What is the oojah? The oojah is any object in Heaven or earth; it is the thing which has no name or the name of which you have temporarily forgotten. — Washington Post, Oct 1917

[Edit: the OED confirms this quotation as their oldest citation for the usage, and suggests an etymology: “Perhaps [from] Urdu and Indo-Persian †ḥujjat kāfī fīhi, lit. ‘the argument is sufficient’, there’s no more to be said about it.”]

A form more familiar to some readers (it certainly was to me) may be oojah-cum-spiff, which is used rather differently: it’s an adjective meaning roughly “all right”, “in good order”, similar to e.g. tickety-boo. This turns up several times in P.G. Wodehouse’s books (the Jeeves novels, and iirc the Blandings ones too):

“Yes, I think we may say everything’s more or less oojah-cum-spiff. With one exception, Jeeves…”

[Edit: OED suggests that the spelling of this version is influenced by the then-popular use of the Latin pronoun cum.]

share|improve this answer
"Oojamaflip" is how I know it from my childhood – Colin Fine Dec 13 '10 at 14:48
@Colin: Ooh yes, I’ve heard that too, come to think of it! Also whosemeflip, pronounced with almost exactly the same vowels and stress; I guess these have probably cross-fertilised each other a bit. – PLL Dec 13 '10 at 15:39
@Colin, I too am familiar with oojamaflip. It was usually the device for opening the top of the range to add more fuel, but it could be anything else. – TRiG Jan 21 '11 at 22:38
I would know "Hoojamaflip" with a pronounced H. – neil Jul 15 '11 at 19:07
I wonder if hoojamaflip is related to whosywhiggig, which is what we used to open the top of the stove to add more wood. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 17 '11 at 0:34

When I lived in Leeds Yorkshire UK, 'Oojah--kapivvy' was definitely part of our family vernacular and was particularly used by my Father. Dad was a WW2 Vet, so he may or may not have picked up the expression during his years in the army. It is synonymous with Thingamajig, Whatchamacallit etc. Sometimes, though it was shortened to Oojah. Here in New York no one has ever understood this wonderful expressive term.To me it has such a lovely flow.

share|improve this answer

It would appear to be quite country wide rather than Local as both my wife , from London, England, and myself from Lancashire both remember our parents using oojacappivvy & oohjahmaflip. they were all born about 1904-1916 so the grandparents probably adopted the saying in WW1. But having been used by 3 generations I have never heard our children or grandchildren use either term. I wonder if they just use an asterisk when texting & cant remember the name of something!

oojamaflip, OED

Like thingamabob or whatchamacallit, oojamaflip (also spelled whojamaflip, hoojamaflip, etc.) is a word used to refer to something a person doesn’t know the name of, or doesn’t wish to specify precisely. The earliest evidence OED‘s researchers have found for the word so far is from 1969, in a pair of advertisements for a product whose precise nature is (appropriately) unclear

Oxford Dictionaries, origin of oojah says: "Early 20th century, of unknown origin"

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.