The Generic Linguistic Placeholder

 BKELEC“WIDGET” is my favorite term to call an object when I don’t know its proper name. I first heard it used at least ten years ago, and was charmed by it immediately, but it is much older than that.  Its first use in print is said to be as a “hypothetical product” of a factory in a 1924 play. I suspect that’s how the now legitimate generic name for a small, functional application on a webpage was born: some web designer did not know what else to call a small functional application, so s/he called it a “widget.” And it stuck. Now everyone with a webpage, blog, or smartphone knows what a widget is.

This is not true of the perhaps dozens of other habitual terms that we substitute for the correct one because we can’t think of what it is called, or never knew in the first place. The most popular slang term now used among younger people is “thingie.” Before that one came along, what you used as a placeholder depended on what your friends were saying, or what you grew up hearing in whatever part of the country you lived.

I’m going to list every generic placeholder that I have ever heard used in place of the correct name for an object  (or person.) I invite you to add one or more that are new to me, in your  comments.


I really thought I knew more, but I can’t remember DIDDLYSQUAT anymore! What’s in  your vocabulary?–Kaye/Sis G