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July 23, 2009

Doh! Where's my Whatchamacallit ? Whatshisface lost it!

The English language - especially the American version, absorbs words from every culture, industry, life style, sport or distraction. Many words, like "whatchamacallit", "whatshisname", "doodad", "gadget", "widget", "whatnot", and hundreds more...

...are used as "place-holders" meaning they are used when we can't think of - or don't know - the proper word.

You can see a selection of these at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placeholder_name.

Every native speaker uses these in spoken conversation - but almost never in writing or in a formal setting. A learner of English, however, must, at the very least, know and understand these words even if they are never used.

The English language learner cannot be too careful when it comes to using these words correctly. Many of them have a very limited "shelf-life" and may only be understood by certain people - or those from certain regions or familiar with certain films or television series.

"Doh!" for example is from the television series "The Simpsons". There is, as with almost every word, a history and context for "Doh!" and the others and a speaker would be wise to look up these words - and their proper usage - before using them in public. Some can be rude or derogatory - so be careful.

Mastery of these words, however, will mark one as someone who knows - and belongs - to that particular group.

For a little more background on the history and use of these words, look at http://www.pbs.org/speak/words/sezwho/slang/. For a background on British slang, take a look at http://www.peevish.co.uk/slang/index.htm.

And finally, for a quiz to see how well you know slang, see how you do on this test of current - or perhaps not so current slang - http://www.manythings.org/slang./slang1.html.

We are all learning. And it is always more fun to learn together. We can learn as much from the past as from the present.

I have asked readers of this blog to submit their dream job (related to language instruction). Send yours. The best length would be about 200-350 words. Over the next week or so, I'll be collecting them and I'll post the best one(s) and send the best writer a CD.

Yes, I'll send it anywhere in the world as long as you have a valid mailing address. Sound good? Then get writing!

I'll be doing several of these over the next few months. Good luck to all!


Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

What do you most want to do? Where would you like to be? Who would you want to work with?

About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else has heard of and riding his bicycle in foreign cities.

He is also waiting for an irresistible job offer...

Posted by mmorf at July 23, 2009 08:47 PM

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