When you know what something is but can’t remember its name, it becomes a “thing-a-ma-bob.” That can be used for almost every item, from phone chargers to kitchen wares.
“Hey Smeechums,” I yelled to my wife one day, “Do you know where my, um, my…thing-a-ma-bob is?”
“I don’t know where you put your stuff,” she yelled back.
“No, no, it’s for potatoes. You know, you kind of smash them with it.”
“Did you check all the drawers?”
“Check the cabinets.”
“I did. So you don’t know where it is?”
“I don’t know what it is.”
I again dug around and finally found it way in the back of a drawer, where it had slowly been shoved after months of nonuse: my potato ricer.
The term “thing-a-ma-jig” is for tools only, but is basically the same situation.
“Hey John, hand me that thing-a-ma-jig.”
I pointed without looking, in the general direction of my tool box. “The long tool, the thing-a-ma-jig.”
“What is it?”
“The jig, the jig!”
“Do you even know what a jig is?”
“Yeah, it’s that thing in my box.”
I finally got it myself and later remembered it’s called a basin wrench. Now that I think of it, John still would have not been able to find it if I’d used the right name.
I sometimes come across objects that, as far as I can remember, I’ve never seen in my life. I call those “thing-a-ma-things.” I seldom ask people to hand me one.
This affliction of memory loss frequently happened at Exwork.
“Hand me that thing-a-ma-bob,” Raymond told me.
I had been following his progress of rewiring a register and knew exactly what he needed. I grabbed a small Phillips screwdriver from his tool bag, handed it to him, and said, “I think you meant to say, thing-a-ma-jig.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s it.”
Besides the old-style “what-cha-ma-call-it” and its shorter version “what-cha-call-it,” I also heard a few unique names for the unremembered, usually from lower management: “scratch-paw,” “junk-a-bunch,” “hall-a-bits,” and the best of all, “doom-a-hickeys.” That last one was said to me by a young female assistant manager. She wanted to know if I had the doom-a-hickeys. Normally when someone asks if I have a supply of a nameless thing, I fake-search my pockets and tell them, “Nope, I’m fresh out.” But this time I said, “I ran out of those when I was a teenager.” I expected her to laugh, but she looked confused and walked away. I never learned what she was looking for or if she ever found it.
My favorite vague-slang is the word “thang” which Henry, that’s what I’ll call him, always used. He was from the south and had that southern twang, and said thang instead of thing. Now and then he’d ask me, “You know what I did with my thang?” and “You know that thang up on the shelves in the back room?” and “Is that thang tomorrow?” I always assured him that I didn’t know where, what, or when his “thang” was.The reason I like that word is because 539 months ago I old-phoned my favorite high school English teacher, Tizby, and during our conversation she asked if I had started saying “thang” instead of “thing” because I lived down south. I told her I wasn’t aware of it. But from then on, I always made sure I didn’t use it in conversation. But I still love it, because it reminds me of all the people around me at work back then.
Well I have to stop now, because my wife wants me to look at a bunch of little squares of cloth she’s laid out on the floor between the dining and living room. It’s going to be a quilt for my sister, her best friend. I don’t know what the squares are called, so I’m going to think of them as doom-a-hickeys.