I am sure I have come across such a term, but I forgot it.

It is about words such as "thingamajig" in English, or "таковата" in Bulgarian. When you can't think of a better name, you just use this one as a placeholder in your sentence and hope the listener will be able to understand your meaning from the context.

If my memory is correct, the term was orthographically similar to "cardigan" or "curmudgeon", but I am not very sure about that part.

  • 3
    Nonce form. English is full of them, some specialized (a gadget is a tool with movable parts, for instance), and some not. Whatchamacallit, thingie, whatsit, whatsis, hoomajigger for things; whozis, whatsisface and whatsisname for people. Nonce forms can be and are frequently made up on the spot by collapsing wh-clauses into single runon words.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 14:31
  • @jlawler Ah I didn't know the term either. Nice one. :D Mind to post it as an answer?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 9:12
  • I prefer smurfism. ;)
    – Crissov
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 9:08
  • In programming we have our friends foo, bar, baz, foobar, qux, and quux.
    – OFRBG
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 4:14

2 Answers 2


An answer seems to be placeholder name according to wikipedia. This seems a bit limitative, since such a word could also replace a verb, or even a qualifier.

The word in French is pantonyme, which could be used as well in English (without the final "e"). I found traces on the web of pantonymy, for example in Visualizing relationships in Hierarchical Small World Networks.

Programmers talk of "wild-card".

The above concerned words that have become accepted for that role in the language, and are being often used for that purpose. Some are listed in the wikipedia article. A good example is widget in English or machin in French.

Still according to wikipedia, a "nonce word", suggested by John Lawler, is somewhat different. It is a "a lexeme created for a single occasion to solve an immediate problem of communication, or an invented or accidental linguistic form, used only once", according to their sources. They give a variety of examples, including "quark" before physicists made it a full fledged noun.

So, while it can play the same role as a placeholder name, this role is not a well known and accepted one since the use of the word is not supposed to occur again.

There seem to be a relation between nonce words and neologisms, in the sense that both are created by their user, which is not the case for a placeholder words. But I believe that a neologism is usually crafted to suggest a specific meaning, and is often intended for reuse with that specific meaning.

An interesting aspect is that placeholder names may be specialized. For example, in French, the non-existent town of "Trifouillis les oies" can stand for any small village, far from everything. It will be understood by any French speaker (i.e. from France). Same goes for "Pétaouchnock" which is an undetermined kind of place, rather far from anywhere decent.

But the non-existent city named Jérimadeth is a "nonce name" for a city. It was mentionned only once by Victor Hugo in his poem Booz endormi, apparently only to get his rhyme to work.

I suppose John Doe plays the same placeholder role for people names.


It turns out the word I was trying to remember back then was "kadigan". Of course, babou's answers also apply.

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