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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. Dec 12, 2010 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, 2010 at 18:52
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    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, 2013 at 19:50

10 Answers 10

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Something like: dingbat, thingamabob or thingy .

From

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, 2010 at 12:20
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    Nice find. Plus 1. Dec 12, 2010 at 17:35
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    Interesting, would be nice to know the etymology, if there ever was any.
    – Orbling
    Dec 13, 2010 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, 2010 at 14:48
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    @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, 2010 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, 2011 at 22:38
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    I would know "Hoojamaflip" with a pronounced H.
    – neil
    Jul 15, 2011 at 19:07
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    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, 2011 at 0:34
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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.

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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"

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  • I grew up with that also. I think I thought of it as 'whojamaflip' but it is obviously the same thing.
    – Tuffy
    Mar 11, 2021 at 22:50
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I am quite happy to accept this as the origin of oojah and {oojah + anything else}

1917 Washington Post 22 July 10/1 An entirely new crop of slang has come into use in the British army during the past year... Oojah may come from the East, with ‘cushy’ and ‘blighty’ and ‘hondook’.

As it is colloquial, standardised versions and spellings will not exist for some of the more exotic versions.

oojah, n. colloquial.

A thing whose name one cannot remember, does not know, or does not wish to mention; (by extension) a useful implement, a gadget.

1917 Punch 24 Jan. 52 (caption) N.C.O. ‘Here! Just grab the oojah an’ dash round to the tiddley-om-pom for some umpty-poo!’ Private..learns later that he was expected to fetch a bucket of coke from the stores.

Etymology: Origin uncertain. Perhaps shortened < a formation similar to whatchamacallit n. (compare what-d'ye-call-'em n.); compare oo pron.2, but perhaps either < a nonsense word used as an exotic-sounding name (see quot. 1901 in etymological note), or < Urdu and Persian ḥujjat argument, pretence, excuse and its etymon Arabic ḥujja argument, pretext (see etymological note and compare oojah capivvy n.).


oojah capivvy = oojah n.

Etymology: Origin uncertain. Perhaps < Urdu and Indo-Persian †ḥujjat kāfī fīhi, literally ‘the argument is sufficient’, there's no more to be said about it ( < ḥujjat (see oojah n.) + kāfī sufficient ( < Arabic kāfī sufficient) + fīhi in it, about it), ... Compare modern Persian ḥujjat kāfī that's all there is to it. Compare ..with the form in -cum- compare oojah-cum-spiff adj.

1917 Lines (Divisional Signal Co., Royal Engineers) Nov. 13 Things We Don't Expect... A civi to understand the order ‘Take this ujakapivi and go to the oojah and bring some what's it.’

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.


oojah-cum-spiff Etymology: Perhaps an alteration of oojah capivvy n., after cum prep. and spiffy adj.

Fine, all right.

1930 P. G. Wodehouse Very Good, Jeeves i. 25 ‘All you have to do,’ I said, ‘is to carry on here for a few weeks more, and everything will be oojah-cum-spiff.’

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I'm from Sydney, Australia, and part of a many-generations-of-Aussies family. My grandfather, also a proud Aussie, used to call a toffee apple a 'hoojah-kapivvy-on-a-stick'. I never heard him use the term 'oojah' or 'hoojah' for anything else, but it seems the meaning was similar from the context - something like 'that thingamabob on a stick'. The pronounced 'h' was clear when he said it. I can't recall him writing it down so my spelling is how I interpreted how he voiced the expression.

A previous answer said that a WW2 vet may have picked up the expression in the army; my grandfather was in the Australian forces in WW2 so may have picked up the expression there as well.

In any case, it may be more than local or countrywide in the British Isles; it definitely infiltrated some of the Commonwealth at least.

I'm in my forties now and can't find many Aussies familiar with the expression; those who are, are generally older than myself.

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I have this cluster: My granddad said oojahkapiv and kisswossties elbows! Not to mention spiders’ kneecaps. He’d come out with these nonsense terms to amuse his grandkids, bless him. He was in Ww1. He also liked the kidl’eativytoo song. Does eat oats, as in plural of Doe

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  • Hi, welcome to the site. While "Mares Eat Oats" sounds like nonsense but makes sense, how do you parse oojahkapiv? I encourage you to take the tour and see the FAQ to keep contributing.
    – livresque
    Mar 11, 2021 at 23:06
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    Hi Bella, welcome to EL&U. It would be good if you could edit your answer to provide a bit more detail. Are you confirming that it's purely a nonsense word and has no meaning? Where's your granddad from? (This can be really useful information for us!). For further guidance, it's useful to read How to Answer. :-) Mar 16, 2021 at 6:15
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I have a feeling it may have originated from a corruption of Indian words brought over by the troops when they returned to uk. In the same way doolalay ( meaning daft) came over. Or a cup of char for tea.

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  • I seem to remember "oojah" being used by Lord Peter Wimsey in one of Dorothy L. Sayers's novels; the meaning was indefinite, something like "whatchamacallit". BTW, "doolally" is definitely from India. Wikipedia mentions "Doolally", originally "doolally tap", meaning to 'lose one′s mind', derived from the boredom felt at the Deolali British Army transit camp by soldiers waiting to be shipped home. 'Tap' may be derived from the Sanskrit word 'tapa' meaning 'heat' or 'fever'. Deolali is about 100 miles northeast of Bombay (now Mumbai).
    – tautophile
    Jun 14, 2018 at 21:22
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I have only just found this thread - My parents use to use Oojakapiv when they were teasing me as a child...(a long time ago - I am now 60)

The discussion was always circular -
What is that? (could be any object)
It's an oojakapiv.
What is an oojakapiv?
A wingwong for a gooses bridle...
What is a Wingwong for a gooses bridle?
An oojakapiv...
Where do I find one?
Up in Annies room behind the clock. (we did not have and Annie in our family)

I have no idea where this saying came from but just know that my parents, parents used to use it too. We are Caucasian... some Irish ancestry and I believe also some Swedish ancestry.

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    This sounds very much like 'ooja-cum-spiff', some British public school slang from Wodehouse. But the meaning seems somewhat different. Possibly your parents and ancestry may have heard it and just started using it in their own way.
    – Mitch
    Oct 3, 2021 at 10:27
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I certainly remember my Grandmother (born 1907) using Oojah-Kapiv and she meant it to signify meaning 'feeling a bit queasy or about to be sick'.

So interesting to have read all the above comments. Almost certainly it is a British Army importation of a Persian/Indian expression of some kind.

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