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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.

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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
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2 Answers

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.

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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
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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.]

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"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. –  KitFox Jul 17 '11 at 0:34
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