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Placeholder name

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Placeholder name

Placeholder names are words that can refer to objects or people whose names are temporarily forgotten, irrelevant, or unknown in the context in which they are being discussed.


  • Linguistic role 1
  • Examples 2
    • Astronomy and science fiction 2.1
    • Companies and organizations 2.2
    • Computing 2.3
      • Domain names 2.3.1
    • Geographical locations 2.4
    • Legal 2.5
    • Living things 2.6
    • Medicine 2.7
    • Military 2.8
    • Numbers 2.9
    • Objects 2.10
    • People 2.11
      • Forms of address 2.11.1
    • Religion and philosophy 2.12
    • Spoken and written language 2.13
  • See also 3
  • References 4

Linguistic role

These placeholders typically function grammatically as nouns and can be used for people (e.g. John Doe, Jane Doe), objects (e.g. widget) or places (e.g. Anytown, USA). They share a property with pronouns, because their referents must be supplied by context; but, unlike a pronoun, they may be used with no referent—the important part of the communication is not the thing nominally referred to by the placeholder, but the context in which the placeholder occurs.

Stuart Berg Flexner and Harold Wentworth's Dictionary of American Slang (1960) use the term kadigan for placeholder words. They define "kadigan" as a synonym for thingamajig. The term may have originated with Willard R. Espy, though others, such as David Annis, also used it (or cadigans) in their writing. Its etymology is obscure—Flexner and Wentworth related it to the generic word gin for engine (as in the cotton gin). It may also relate to the Irish surname Cadigan. Hypernyms (words for generic categories; e.g. "flower" for tulips and roses) may also be used in this function of a placeholder, but they are not considered to be kadigans.


Placeholder words exist in a highly informal register of the English language. In formal speech and writing, words like accessory, paraphernalia, artifact, instrument, or utensil are preferred; these words serve substantially the same function, but differ in connotation.

Most of these words can be documented in at least the nineteenth century. Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story entitled "The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq"., showing that particular form to be in familiar use in the United States in the 1840s. In Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, W. S. Gilbert makes the Lord High Executioner sing of a "little list" which includes:

... apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind, Such as: What d'ye call him: Thing'em-bob, and likewise: Never-mind, and 'St: 'st: 'st: and What's-his-name, and also You-know-who: The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.

Some fields have their own specific placeholder terminology. For example, "widget" in economics, engineering and electronics or "Blackacre" and John or Jane Doe in law.

Astronomy and science fiction

Companies and organizations

  • "Ace" and "Acme" were popular in company names as positioning words in alphabetical directories. They were generic, laudatory of whatever products they were used to promote and appeared at the beginning of most alpha-sorted lists. The Acme Corporation of cartoon fame is one placeholder example. ("Acme" - a regular English word from the Greek "akme" meaning summit, highest point, extremity or peak and thus sometimes used for "best").
  • "Mom and Pop" (in the United States) are occasional placeholders for the individual owners of a generic, very small family business
  • Main Street or High Street for the business district of a small town or village, often contrasted as a commercial business entity against Wall Street as the financial market of New York City.
  • "Advent corporation" is a term used by lawyers to describe an as yet unnamed corporation, while legal incorporation documents are being prepared. In case of Advent Corporation, founder Henry Kloss decided to adopt this placeholder name as the formal legal name of his new company.
  • Fictional brands such as Morley (cigarette) are often used in television and cinema as placeholders to avoid unintended product placement.
  • The word “Smurf” is the original Dutch translation of the French "Schtroumpf", which, according to Peyo, is a word invented during a meal, when he could not remember the word salt.[1]
  • "XYZ Widget Company" has long been used in business and economic textbooks as a sample company. Also used as engraving text example on items such as placks, trophy plates, etc. Occasionally appears on customizable promotional materials including stationary templates, business cards, advertizing signage, cups, backpacks, and other "swag" samples.


Placeholder names are commonly used in computing:

  • Foo, Bar, Baz, and Qux (and combinations thereof) are commonly used as placeholders for file, function and variable names. Foo and bar probably relate to FUBAR.
  • Hacker slang includes a number of placeholders, such as frob (wikt), which may stand for any small piece of equipment. To frob, likewise, means to do something to something. In practice it means to adjust (a device) in an aimless way.
  • Alice and Bob, alternatives for 'Person A'/'Person B' when describing processes in telecommunications; in cryptography Eve (the eavesdropper) is also added.
  • J. Random X (e.g. J. Random Hacker, J. Random User) is a term used in computer jargon for a randomly selected member of a set, such as the set of all users. Sometimes used as J. Random Loser for any not-very-computer-literate user.[1]
  • Johnny Appleseed, commonly used as a placeholder name by Apple.

Domain names

  • Espy, W., An Almanac of Words at Play (Clarkson Potter, 1979) ISBN 0-517-52090-7
  • Flexner, S. B. and Wentworth, H., A Dictionary of American Slang; (Macmillan, 1960) ASIN B000LV7HQS OCLC 875372335
  • Watson, Ian, "Meet John Doe: stand-ins", section 3.7 in, Cognitive Design, (Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University, 2005).
  1. ^ "J. Random". Retrieved 2012-10-06. 
  2. ^ "". 
  3. ^ See Philip Henre Gosse, Letters from Alabama (1859), p. 234:
    The propriety of correct classification was impressed on me during my examination. I inadvertently spoke of it [an opossum] as "a singular creature;" but creature, or rather "critter," is much too honourable a term for such an animal, being appropriated to cattle. The overseer promptly corrected my mistake. "A 'Possum, Sir, is not a critter, but a varmint."
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Telephone numbers for drama use (TV, Radio etc)". Retrieved 10 December 2014. 


See also

  • Cloud cuckoo land: a proposal that the speaker regards as foolish or impractical (named derived from the ancient Greek play The Birds by Aristophanes)
  • Folderol: foolish or silly talk
  • Gibberish: content that makes no sense to anyone
  • Gobbledygook: text whose wording is so complex as to be meaningless, usually used as a way for the writer to appear intelligent
  • Lorem ipsum: Simulated text used to fill in for written content in a page layout design
  • Word salad: an incomprehensible series of words and phrases. While usually used when resulting from mental illness, it is sometimes used to other incomprehensible speech

Spoken and written language

  • Mumbo jumbo: rituals performed by a priest of a religion that one does not believe in that are performed in a language that one is unfamiliar with. Can also be used about legal writing that a person does not understand or perceives as needlessly long-winded ("Legal mumbo jumbo")
  • Hocus pocus: a generic term derived from Latin phrase, "Hoc est corpus meum", meaning "This is my body." This is currently used by magicians, usually the magic words spoken when bringing about some sort of change.
  • Abracadabra: A specific magical phrase, but also used generically, based on the first four letters of the alphabet.
  • Crystal wavers / waving: mostly New Age people / practices that are at the 'lite' or shallow end of the spectrum, having minimum foundation for rituals
  • "Ism" is often used for a generic religious, political or philosophical concept, since so many such concepts end in "-ism"

Religion and philosophy

Some placeholders are used in second-person to address another, usually — but not always — because the second party's name is unknown.

Forms of address

Placeholder expressions can refer to people. Certain fixed expressions are used as placeholder names in a number of specialized contexts.


  • black box, an indeterminate device where only its input and output matter and the way it works does not
  • contraption, a large man-made machine
  • Cumsiecom: a rendition of the Italian phrase come si chiama, literally "what do you call it", which may refer to a thing or a stuff
  • dingbat, an old-fashioned term for a random or unidentifiable object, [2] as referenced in James Thurber's "The Owl in the Attic".[3]
  • doodad, used for indeterminate small man-made objects about the size of a cellular phone (may be electronic or not)
  • doohickey
  • doowhichit, alternate form of doohickey
  • gewgaw, an indeterminate piece of jewelry
  • gizmo
  • gubbins
  • hoofer doofer, A device such as a TV remote for controlling another device
  • hoozy-whatzy
  • NESOI, NESI, or NES, acronyms short for Not Elsewhere Specified or Indicated. Used in categorizing items, for example in:
  • oojamaflip
  • thingamajig, thingumabob or thingamajiggery.
  • thingy
  • veeblefetzer, from a Yiddish word meaning "contraption" (In Mad magazine, a fictional company called "North American Veeblefetzer" was often used as a means to satirize business practices.)
  • whatchamacallit
  • whatsit
  • widget, referring to some theoretical object. It was originally most commonly used in describing the output of a hypothetical business; in computer technology, it refers to any arbitrary item that may be made to appear on the screen.
  • yoke



  • Tommy Atkins, the generic name for a soldier of the British Army. Also, colloquially, Bill Oddie, rhyming slang on the nickname 'squaddie'.
  • In the American Army and Air Force, Private (or Airman) Tentpeg and Snuffy are commonly used in examples (to explain various procedures) or cautionary tales. In the Marine Corps, Lance Corporal Schmuckatelli serves the same purpose.[4]

Often used in example names and addresses to indicate to the serviceman where to put his own details.


  • St. Elsewhere is often used as a placeholder name for any regional hospital, or other care facility from which an admitted patient was referred. The medical slang is honored in the name of the 1980s television show of the same name.
  • GOMER is a name in medical slang for any chronically ill patient in hospital; its use is informal and pejorative, deriving from the 1978 novel House of God.


  • Bug: any germ. However, true bugs belong to the order Hemiptera
  • Critter (dial., creature): any animal, usually a small mammal
  • Varmint (dial., vermin): any despised animal,[3] usually a small mammal

Living things

  • John Doe and the variations Jane Doe (for females) and John Roe or Richard Roe (for a second party) used in legal action and cases when the true identity of a person is unknown or must be withheld for legal reasons. "Jane Roe" was used for the then-unidentified plaintiff (Norma Leah McCorvey) in one of the most famous legal cases in United States history, Roe v. Wade.
  • Mopery used in informal legal discussions as a placeholder for some infraction, when the exact nature of the infraction is not important.
  • Blackacre and its neighbors Whiteacre, Greenacre, Brownacre, Greyacre, Pinkacre, etc. are used as placeholders for parcels of real property, usually on Law School examinations and the several State Bar Exams. They are sometimes located in Acre County in the fictional State of Franklin.
  • SQUIFFO is used as a placeholder name for a trade mark by trade mark lawyers and agents.
  • The man on the Clapham omnibus a hypothetical reasonable person, used by the courts in English law where it is necessary to decide whether a party has acted as a reasonable person would.


Placeholders such as "Main Street", "Your County", and "Anytown" are often used in sample mailing addresses. Ruritania is commonly used as a placeholder country.

Geographical locations

, such as 2001:db8: in IP6 documentation. IPv6 and IPv4 exist in reserved IP addresses Various example [2]

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