15

Is there a name for words like whatchamacallit, doohickey, thingamabob, doodad, thingamajig, whatsit, etc.?

Somehow it seems like there should be a word to describe the general term for a word that you use for referring to something when you cannot remember what it is called.

(Computing names like foo, bar, baz are examples of metasyntactic variables but those are a slightly different category.)

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    It's idiosyncratic but related: atlasobscura.com/articles/… – user662852 Feb 6 at 21:02
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    According to John Lawler, they're called Nonce Forms – ale10ander Feb 6 at 21:13
  • They're all dingbobs for dodaddles! – Hot Licks Feb 6 at 23:23
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    @ale10ander: with all due respect for John Lawler, a nonce word is a newly-coined word which is used once for a specific meaing, whereas a placeholder like "whatchamacallit" is a widely-agreed-upon form which can be used as a substitute for arbitrary terms. – rici Feb 7 at 2:22
  • I like placeholder but if you want another option: stand-in. – aparente001 Feb 7 at 6:46
20

These are placeholders:

placeholder is a word (such as whatchamacallit) used by speakers to signal that they don't know or can't remember a more precise word for something. Also known as a kadigantongue-tipper, and dummy noun.
ThoughtCo.

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    that would be a reasonable answer... except that if I look up placeholder in a dictionary I get no reference to whatchamacallit, etc. (see dictionary.com/browse/placeholder and dictionary.com/browse/placeholder) – Jason S Feb 6 at 21:02
  • See for example en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placeholder_name – Hugo Feb 6 at 21:19
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    @JasonS You seem to have given the same link twice. Also, dictionary.com doesn't typically give examples in that sense; a Ford Fiesta is a car even though it isn't mentioned at dictionary.com/browse/car – Kamil Drakari Feb 6 at 21:38
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    I was surprised by @JasonS's comment, but I checked a few dictionaries and found that a surprising number of them refer to placeholder as being either mathematical or political terminology. As a long-time native speaker, I am 100% sure this word is much more widely used than in just those specific fields. It's very easy to find countless examples in popular culture, literature, science, sports, etc. – barbecue Feb 7 at 1:54
  • @barbecue What seems especially strange to me is that I've rarely, if ever, seen it used in the two contexts given. In math, generally the term "placeholder" was quickly replaced with "variable" in most instances. I don't think I've ever heard of someone in a political position referred to as a "placeholder" under those circumstances. – JMac Feb 7 at 14:25
0

Although not a single word, you can call them "Vague Expressions"

. . .
We can use vague expressions when we are not sure of the name of something.
. . .
› Spoken English
In very informal speaking, we sometimes say /ˈwɒtʃjəməkɔ:lɪt/, /ˈwɒtʃjəməkɔ:lɪm/, /ˈθɪŋəmi/, /ˈθɪŋəmədʒɪg/... [cambridge.org/grammar]

The grammar article doesn't list all the question examples but I think they can be safely put in the same category. I am unaware of there being a single word with the precise meaning of "vague expression".

If you wanted to use a synecdoche figure of speech you could call them, say, "something-or-others" as in "Their explanation used too many something-or-others instead of the correct words for things".

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    If 'it' is the concept, then it -is- a vague expression, but that's not what you -call- it. And we're looking for what you call it. – Mitch Feb 6 at 23:46

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