8

In some fields of study, there are various placeholder nouns/proper nouns---basically nouns that are conventionally used in an example but are understood not to correspond to an actual object.

In economics examples you frequently see 'widgets'.

In law you have 'John Doe' or 'Blackacre'.

In computer science you see 'foo' and 'bar' used as variable names.

Is there, in any field of study, a verb that fulfills the same role? That is, a verb that does not actually correspond to an action, and is conventionally understood to be some sort of placeholder? I can vaguely remember encountering such a verb in the past---something that ended in -ulate or -ize, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was.

5
  • I can't imagine a case where the actual verb is not important (contrary to manufacturing processes, where what is made is not an important aspect of the sentence and widget suffices). A sample sentence may help here.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 10:03
  • @AndrewLeach, An example from the literature is "He umm[...] thingoed with High Distinction, uhh[...] graduated." (Powers, 1991) This is not specific to a field of study, but is rather a general example of placeholder verb use as a result of lexical access failure.
    – JEL
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 10:08
  • @JEL That's the problem: widget, John Doe, foo, bar are not lexical access problems: the exact term is simply irrelevant to the context. In your example, the verb is crucial and thingy doesn't perform the same function as the OP's examples.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 10:11
  • @AndrewLeach, an example from this site, where 'verb' is itself used as a placeholder/fillin for "any of a set of" verbs: What’s the difference between “to VERB” and “to be VERBed”?. I expect, finally, that popular linguistics will provide the readiest examples, although oblitive verbs are used with a variety of functions in, for example, Georgian.
    – JEL
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 10:37
  • In CS contexts, I often see "frobnicate".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 16:03

2 Answers 2

6

I'm not sure how common it is these days, but when I was in college 30-35 years ago the popular placeholder verb was to frob; if you wanted to sound more sophisticated, the longer version to frobnicate could be used.

This word also did double duty as a noun, being used similarly to widget.

Hacker's Dictionary

2
  • "frobnicate" was the first word that came to my mind. Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 7:49
  • I've also heard "frobulate" used in the wild as a metasyntactic verb, which could be the "ulate" word that OP is trying to remember.
    – 16807
    Commented May 11, 2022 at 1:37
1

To extend the computer science example you gave, someone may want to demonstrate a certain feature or technique applicable to methods. If it is a general point about method definition or invocation and the actual method is not important, then if foo and bar are given as class names, the method is often referred to as foo.doSomething() or bar.doSomeWork(). These seem to fit your requirement as verb placeholders, although they are not single words.

The closest I can think of in everyday usage is using an obscure or nonsense word as a placeholder, so maybe you are remembering a word like discombobulate?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.