Gizmos and Do-hickeys

Gizmos and Do-hickeys: Things you Forgot or Don’t Know the Names of

I’m not very mechanically minded.  There are lots of tools and devices I don’t know the names for.  This thing, for example: [show gadget].  Or what do you call this thing? [show gadget 2]

In English, there are technical words for items that the average person does not know the name. This is because every area of life—from auto mechanics to medicine, to architecture and barbering—have more details than we non-specialists can handle. In short, it takes an expert to identify and label these specialized items.

When we don’t know what to call something in English, we use a word that means “it’s a thing, but I don’t know the name for it.” In standard English, we may call something a gadget, a widget, or a device.  If it’s bigger, we might call it  a contraption.

But on the informal side, there are more interesting words that Americans use when they don’t know what to call something:


a gizmo

a thingamabob

a thingamajig or a thingy

do-hickey or doodad or doojigger

My favorite is whatchamacallit – which is a slurring together of the phrase “what[ever] you may call it.”

And then there’s the related whatsis – from the question “What is this?”

The next time you’re helping an American friend with a project, don’t be shy about your limited vocabulary.  Everything has a name for it. Just call it a thingamabob...or maybe a do-hickey!

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.