Monday, July 31, 2023

“Thingummies”, “whatdoyoucallums”, and “whatshisnames” in Charles Dickens’s “Our Mutual Friend” (1865)

When Lady Tippins in Charles Dickens's "Our Mutual Friend" (1865) canvasses for Mr. Veneering's campaign for Parliament, she speaks to someone who “can only consent to be brought in by the spontaneous thingummies of the incorruptible whatdoyoucallums.” Later in the same novel, Lavinia Wilfer asks about her sister's benefactors: “After all, you know, Bella, you haven't told us how your Whatshisnames are.” Such phrases for words you've forgotten or want to avoid also appear in earlier Dickens novels, with examples from "Dombey and Son" (1848) appearing in quotations in the Oxford English Dictionary. "Thingummy" goes back to the 18th century, while forms of "whatdoyoucallum" and "whatshisname" go back to the 17th. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 July 2023)

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