When words fail you

When you find yourself unable to recall a particular word, there are quite a few alternative filler words you can call on. In English these include thing, thingumy, thingumybob, thingamyjig, wotsit, doobree, doodad, and whatchamacallit. Few of these words have a standard form, so you can spell them how you like.

Knowing the equivalents of these words in other languages is very useful because there will always be gaps in your vocabulary. What kinds of filler words do you use in your language?

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

26 Responses to When words fail you

  1. Nishiki says:

    A common “alternative filler word” in Malay is “apa nama”, literally “what name”.

  2. Laci the Hun says:

    in Hungarian it’s “izé” but in my dialect (I learnt from my granny) we use “hotyiják” it equals with watchamacallit
    in Esperanto you can say “umo” you can use it as a verb “mi umas” meaning I’m doing a thing… or something like that :)
    how do they say it in Arabic?

  3. Lau says:

    I’ve always liked the German word Dingsbums. The sound of it is just great. In English I usually prefer the word thingy. But stuff is also a very useful word.

    In Danish we would probably say: ting, dims, dippedut, himstregims or something similar. Even the last two actually appear in the official list of how to spell words. (Don’t know the English term for such a book ;) )

  4. Polly says:

    “Thingamajig”, “doohickey”, “whattchamacallit”(also a chocolate bar), and just plain “thing.”

    In Armenian, it’s pretty straightforward: “thing” translated as “pahn”/ “բան”
    I hear Russians using “eta” / “это” when they seemingly can’t remember a word. I know I do. ;)

  5. AR says:

    We say “stuff” and “like” a lot. I’ve seen spanish speakers say “bueno”, or “yyyyyyy”. Bengali people often say “maane” meaning “means”.

  6. In Portuguese we say “ãããhhh…” when at a loss for words (that’s a nasal _a:_, a sound that has to be heard to be believed!). On a more verbal level, we say “coisa” (“thing”). I believe Argentinians say “este…” when searching for an appropriate word; it means “this…”.

  7. Declan says:

    É sin, or Ceard é sin, in Irish.

  8. Zachary R. says:

    In French I mostly hear “chose” (thing), which is often preceded or followed by other words. E.g. “chose là…” (thing there…) “euh… c’te chose, tu sais?” (umm… that thing, you know?) I can’t think of any other words used, as most people tend to fill the empty space with either a description or the English equivalent.

  9. Giovanni says:

    In Italian, whatchamacallit would be
    – “cosa” (thing)
    – “come si chiama/dice?” (what’s his/its name?)
    – the non-existent word “coso” (thing-o) in spoken Italian, not only used for things but for people too
    – a plethora of regional words, for example “fresco” in Rome, which has an ironic feel and refers to an old and/or strange and/or funny tool, like something you buy in a flea market.

  10. jdotjdot89 says:

    Spanish:
    “cosa”, meaning “thing”, is always a popular one. Beyond that, I don’t know many others, though I am sure there are some.

    In Hebrew, there are a few. When English-speakers say “uhhh…”, Hebrew-speakers and the like say “ehh…..” which is really very amusing. “כאילו/ke’ilu” meaning roughly “as if, like if” is very popular and goes where English-speakers would throw in “like”.

  11. Ben L. says:

    “Bums” happens to be part of a German expletive, snicker snicker.

  12. Podolsky says:

    When a Hebrew speaker finds difficulty to find a suitable word he uses the espression “ze, ma shmo” = this, what’s its name.

  13. jane says:

    Many Australian languages have such a word, which usually can be inflected for case, and can form part of derived verbs “do whatsname”

  14. Josh says:

    When speaking french I tend to use “truc” and “machin” a lot. Although “chose” means “thing”, these other words have more of a “whatchamacallit” nature to me. Like, when I don’t know the word for something (i.e. a hole puncher) I’ll call it a “perce-truc” (hole punchin’-thing) or “machin à percer” (thing that punches holes).

  15. Josh says:

    Or “machin qui perce”…etc.

  16. Joakim says:

    In norway we use words like dings, dingsboms (equal to the german “dingsbums”), duppeditt, greie.. But i guess “ting” (thing) is the most common one.

  17. Josh says:

    “Duppeditt”– haha, my favourite thus far. Norwegian just looks “cute” to me for some reason.

  18. Someguy says:

    “juttu”, “semmoinen”, “asia” and “hauskuus” spring to mind from my use of Finnish.

  19. Samawel says:

    In colloquial Arabic, we’d say something like “شو اسمه” or “ما اسمه” literally “what’s his’s name”.

  20. One that I’ve seen in Spanish for a person whose name you don’t know is “Fulano,” which kind of functions like saying, “So-and-So”.

  21. Benjamin says:

    In German there is of course Dingsbums, as mentioned above, but there’re also the words Dings or Dingsda. Hm, are there words without “dings”… Yes. Teil or Zeug(s) (piece and ?stuff?). Any others? I think so, but I don’t remember any at the moment.

  22. [ An aside to Minstrel Ayreon ]
    Yes, we have “fulano” in Portuguese too. In fact, the three generic persons – the English language’s Tom, Dick and Harry, or John Doe & Co. – are called (in order) Fulano, Beltrano, Sicrano. :-)

  23. Jared says:

    “Thingummy” seems to be a peculiarity of the British. I’ve never run across that word in an American publication unless it’s a) a quote from a Brit, or b) an originally British book published in the US.

  24. HeLei says:

    In Chinese, at least in our university, we often say “那个” (na ge) “然后” (ran hou) which mean “that” “then” separately. They are really meaningless, but quite popular now. I don’t know why. (I’m ashamed to say that I cannot communicate fluently without them!)

  25. parkbench says:

    Spanish uses “chisme” often: “algún chisme…”

  26. Joseph Quintanilla says:

    In spanish I’ve only heard este…In japanese i’ve heard my professor use eeto…… a lot. Any other fillers in japanese?