The devolution of English language and slothful c.l.p behaviors exposed!

Steven D'Aprano steve+comp.lang.python at
Thu Jan 26 00:14:45 EST 2012

On Wed, 25 Jan 2012 15:23:10 -0800, Rick Johnson wrote:

> Let's see what intelligent words we can find here...
> """
> doohickey
> a name for something one doesn't know the name of, 1914, Amer.Eng.,
> arbitrary formation.
> thing·a·ma·jig
> a gadget or other thing for which the speaker does not know or has
> forgotten the name.
> """
> Wow, this dictionary has high standards. i stand humbled!

If only you did. You might learn something.

Rick, you mock what you do not understand. Shame on you.

"Doohickey" and "thing-a-ma-jig" (or "thingumajig") are metasyntactic 
variables like "foo/bar/baz" or "spam/ham/eggs". They are real words used 
by real people, not just in speech but in writing, and it is the job of 
the dictionary compiler to document actual words used by people, not to 
make arbitrary rules that some words aren't good enough.

Dictionaries should be descriptive, not prescriptive. We do not need or 
want an "Académie Française" for English, especially not one that would 
impoverish the English language and reduce it to a poor shadow of itself 
by taking away fine distinctions of meaning.

Being able to distinguish between widget, gadget, doohickey, thingy, 
whatsit, wossname, etc. is a feature, not a bug. It is part of the 
richness of English that we aren't limited to just a single word, 
"thing", to describe multiple things. In a single sentence, we can easily 
use "thing" to refer to generic, abstract objects or concepts, and 
"doohickey", "whatsit", etc. to refer to *specific*, concrete objects 
whether or not they have a name.

These words are as rich and powerful as older words like "organ", "part", 
"stuff", "bits", all of which have subtle differences of meaning. In the 
same way that a native English speaker would never make the mistake of 
using "organ" to refer to an unnamed mechanical device, so she would 
never use "gadget" to refer to an unnamed body part.


More information about the Python-list mailing list