Posted by: Jack Henry | April 27, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Things

Toastmasters of the world, avert your eyes! I’m about to talk about something dreaded in your world: words that we use when we can’t think of the name for something, like stuff, or thingy, or doodad. Specifically, one of our readers was wondering about thingamajigs and thingamabobs.

Here’s what I found. First, I discovered that there are alternate spellings:

  • thingamajig
  • thingumajig
  • thingamabob
  • thingumabob
  • thingumbob

The second thing I found was that they all have the same meaning: “something which is hard to classify or whose name is not known.” Merriam-Webster didn’t go much further than that. In fact, all it had as far as an etymology was “irregular, from thingum.” So I looked up thingum and it defined it as “thingumbob.” Thanks for nothing!

Moving on to my more reliable site for etymologies, I went to the Online Etymology Dictionary. Suddenly, I felt like someone was teasing me. Here is the thingamajig etymology:

also thingumajig, 1824, see thing. Compare in similar sense kickumbob (1620s), thingum (1670s), thingumbob (1751), thingummy (1796), jigamaree (1824).

And under thingamabob, the etymology dictionary has the following definitions, including some tasteless ones I’ve omitted:

dingbat (n.)

1838, American English, some kind of alcoholic drink, of unknown origin. One of that class of words (such as dingus, doohickey, gadget, gizmo, thingumabob) which are conjured up to supply names for items whose proper names are unknown or not recollected. Used at various periods for "money," "a muffin," "a woman who is neither your sister nor your mother," and "a foolish person in authority." Popularized in sense of "foolish person" by U.S. TV show "All in the Family" (1971-79), though this usage dates from 1905. In typography, by 1912 as a printer’s term for ornament used in headline or with illustrations.

I guess with all of those possible meanings, maybe Toastmasters should cast aspersions on us when we don’t use a precise, correct term!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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