Placeholder names

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What’s that thing called again? Placeholder names in English

What do you say when you don’t know or forget the name of an object or a person? Many languages have their own words to fill this memory gap and the English language is no different. In this blog, we will talk about some weird and wonderful Placeholder Names in the English language, their meaning and use.


If you follow politics you must have noticed politicians often bringing a certain average Joe into their debates and speeches. And on the newspapers or the news you probably encountered a John Doe (or his female version Jane Doe). And you asked yourself… Is this common in the English language? Who are these people? Are they famous?

No, they are not famous. They are not even real people, mind you. These are what we call Placeholder names, very common in many languages and of course in the English language too. The average Joe is nothing but a term coined to refer to an ordinary citizen, it’s more common in the US than in Britain, but widely used in both countries nevertheless. You would probably hear something like this… “I will not govern for the rich, I will govern for the average Joe…” or similar.

John and his “wife” Jane Doe are names used instead of real names to refer to real people whose names perhaps can’t be disclosed or are unknown. Very common in legal actions or to name unidentified dead bodies (yikes!) or patients in hospitals.

Placeholder names, however, also have a funny side. They are used to name objects we can’t remember (or know) the name. Thing is a word commonly used in many languages to replace those pesky words we can’t remember. Sure, thing works in most cases in the English language too but there are wonderfully silly versions of thing, that I’d like to share with you.

Thingy – a more informal variation of thing. Usually comes accompanied by lots of gestures or perhaps pointing at the thing you just can’t remember the name.. It would probably go like this: “Can you pass that thingy, you know the clip thing that holds papers together…”

Not satisfied with thingy, people had to go the extra mile and create yet another variation for thing, the great, very used by me,

Thingymajigy – an even further informal variation of thing, it performs the same linguistic purpose in a sentence, simply replacing that thingy you just can’t remember the name… Possible use: “I read this yesterday on the thingymajigy, you know… the newspaper!”

And last but definitely, definitely not least,

Whatchmacallit – (doesn’t that sound great?). Again, simply to replace the name of that thing, thingy, thingymajigy you just can’t remember the name… Something along the lines of… “I need one of those things, whatchamacallit, you know, the thing you use to caramelise sugar…”

Isn’t the English language full or surprises? Hopefully after reading this blog, you will always have a word at hand to use when your memory fails you! And check out our website formore information on our courses and programmes!

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