What’s That Thingummy?

By Maeve Maddox

Margareth Wennersteen writes:

Today I heard about the word “wotsit” for the first time. . . It was used as a synonym to a “thingy”, which didn’t match with the definitions I found on the web: “Providing the question isn’t in itself version specific, but is more of a “how do I set up my wotsit to do whatever” type question then I would just have one FAQ, and within the answer have a section for each version or version ranges.”

A search for wotsit garners 105,000 hits, including a brand of cheese puffs called Wotsits (they look like Cheetos), a song called “Wiggle that Wotsit,” and two domains called respectively wotsit.org and wotsit.thingy.com,

Wordnik lists several examples:

. . . the nurse said: ‘that chap has the word LUDO tattooed on his wotsit!’

“ Right, so the Transformers lost their Rubix cube wotsit and they think they left it down the back of our couch. ”

Wotsit can also be used in the sense of so-and-so to refer to a person.

It’s an excellent phone, but is slightly crippled by the fact that it’s a little battered around the edges (I can be a right clumsy wotsit). . .

“ You clever little wotsit. ”

Clearly, wotsit is just the latest incarnation of whatsit, a shortening of what is it? used as a noun to refer to something unknown or unmentionable, as in this example from the OED:

Suddenly you’re a man. Not just because you happen to have a couple of whatsits, but because you feel it.

Another word replaced by wotsit is whatchamacallit, from the phrase “what you may call it.” Whatchamacallit is just too long for this text-speak age.

The verbally-puzzled folks in the Middle Ages also had a version of this all-purpose utterance: what-calle-ye-hym.

Wotsit is one of those words, like thingummy, thingy, thingamabob, thingamajig, doohickey, and doodad, that we throw into our speech when we can’t be bothered to think of the right word.

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11 Responses to “What’s That Thingummy?”

  • spike1

    “Clearly, wotsit is just the latest incarnation of whatsit”????

    wotsit has been in use for DECADES in the UK. Hardly “latest”, just because it’s new to a few yanks, is it?

    The “cheesy snack” was called wotsits because of the word rather than the other way around and they’ve been on this planet almost as long as I have, if not longer. (I certainly don’t recall a time before wotsits).

  • Maeve Maddox

    Sorry, Spike. I bow to your longer acquaintance with wotsit and wotsits.

    As for my U.S. perspective, I lived in the U.K. for seven years, at an age when I was more alert than I am now, and I don’t recall having encountered wotsits. 🙂

  • Brad K.

    I believe the mathematical and business/accounting school version of Whatsit and Wotsit is “widget”.

    I have a neighbor that lazily refers to items and processes as “deal” “This deal goes here like this. Now tack (weld) it.” “I went to the web page, and typed into the deal. Why did (insert vague description) happen?”

    Wotsit should be used only in casual, informal settings – it presumes, heavily, on all parties understanding the precise item or person being referred to. As any writer or speaker should be aware of, communicating clearly and accurately is tough enough, without using ad hoc euphemisms. And whatsit, wotsit, thingy, etc. are euphemisms without definition, only context. This places an unfair burden on the listener/reader to infer, correctly, what the writer intended to convey.

  • mand

    I’ve always used ‘whatsit’ as well, though i’m more likely to say ‘thingamijig’ or ‘whatchamacallit’. Lately i find myself saying ‘doobery’, though i don’t know if that’s just me or a zeitgeist thing!

    Oh, wow, heaven. I just put ‘whatchamacallit’ into WordWeb and it comes up with 26 synonyms. :0) Four are marked ‘N. Amer’ and two ‘Austral’. ‘Gizmo’ is there, another i sometimes resort to. Also ‘gimmick’, which i’d never have counted in this list, having known only its sense of ‘clever manoeuvre’ (as in ‘gimmicky marketing’).

    I think it was Terry Pratchett who coined ‘wossname’; at least, his books were where i first encountered that and i tend to say it too, now.

    I don’t know similar ‘cop-out’ terms in other languages, never thought to wonder – not the kind of thing you get taught as a foreign learner. Anyone?

  • Thorn

    I’m with Spike wotsit predates txt speak and wossname more ‘correctly’ wossaname when I was young tended to be for people rather than things

    “take the wotist down the road to old wossaname”

    They may be more common in London, but I’m always wary of claiming that as Londoners come from all over 🙂

  • Richard T

    I also grew up in UK and despite twenty years in Australia I still clearly remember cheesy wotsits as the most popular playground snack of the late 70s.

  • Tony Hearn

    Here in the UK my best friend of 50 years standing uses ‘doobry’. My mother prefers ‘whatjacallit’. My mother-in-law: ‘thingmebob’. My wife – a Terry Pratchet fan- uses ‘wassname’. The offspring use ‘wassname, ‘watsit’, ‘thingmy’. One of my favourites is ‘oojameflip’.

  • mand

    Ooh! My mum says ‘oojameflip’ as well! ;0)

  • Precise Edit

    I like “thingamahootchie,” which can be adapted for specific purposes.

    Example 1: stick-amahootchie = Flash drive, stick drive, thumb drive (you know, the thing you STICK in the side of your computer)

    Example 2: slice-amahootchie = the special cutting tool that help you cut coupons and SLICE pieces from a roll of wrapping paper.

  • mand

    And the Wotsit’s playground popularity hasn’t declined!

  • Dave Starr

    I’m an American who lives in the Philippines, where the the English is really a heady brew of many of the world’s “flavors” of English, Singaporean, Hong Kong, the sub-flavors of Oz and Kiwi land, the Queen’s own, and, of course, American English fueled by 90-odd years of American rule plus an insatiable demand for American TV and cinema.

    My wife’s family (mostly girls born in the 1960’s or 70’s once commonly used the word “kwan” in any place “wotsit” or “thingamabob” might fit. On your way back from the kitchen, bring me the, the … kwan, will you please?” It may have Chinese origins, but I don’t really know.

    As with some of the OED examples illustrated, it was also commonly used to substitute for explicit words in overly polite conversation, leading to one of their favorite school girl cinema jokes,

    “What’s at the movies tonight?”

    “William’s Holding Nancy’s Kwan”.

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