There’s a scene in When Harry Met Sally, I’m pretty sure, where Harry and Sally are on the phone planning to meet. They’re in a hurry and one of them says something along the lines of: “So let’s meet at the place near that thing,” and the other is like, “Yeah okay, bye.” They know. The whole point is that their intimacy is such that they “get” what each other means even when what is spoken is entirely devoid of content.
When I was growing up, my step-mother used words like “majigger” to indicate the particular thingamabob she wanted me to fetch from the place upstairs where it was usually kept. I usually knew what she meant, which led me to understand on a very fundamental level that, in families, at least, specificity is not necessary when haste, distraction and intimacy all come together to make the need for words obsolete. At least temporarily.
“Can you bring me the thingamabob from the closet when you come back?” – called to a family member getting up for a snack.
“Where is that damned whosiewhatist I got last summer at that place? Remember? Where the hell did I put it?” – angrily muttered to anyone within earshot while tearing the house apart.
“Did you get the stuff like you said?” –asked when a husband/wife/mother/sibling/child walks in the door after doing errands.
All of these seem obvious and clear in the moment.
I have always had a little bit of a delay when it comes to recalling nouns in particular. I found out not too many years ago that the human brain stores words of different parts of speech in different sections of the brain. That blew my mind. I mean, why wouldn’t words all hang out in the same place, neatly alphabetized in little file boxes? Why would we keep adjectives in one corner and nouns in another, with adverbs and pronouns, verbs and conjunctions all squirreled away in their own little hidey holes? But it makes me think maybe I have a little problem in the noun-storage space in this brain of mine. I usually think of it, but have been known to make random replacements, such as asking someone to get the milk out of the telephone or put the gloves away in the fridge or answer the doorknob when it rings. But in any case, the convenience of doohickey, majigger, thingamabob and whatchamacallit has not gone unnoticed in my daily life.
And I’m a word person, in the end. I love words. I teach words. I write words and read words and have a close, romantic relationship with them. I do love the convenience of intelli-talk and also…there is nothing sexier than when you say: “Do you remember that thing we saw at the place when we were doing that thing and then the guy showed us the whatchamacallit that you bought for me and I cried?” and your significant other answers, “Oh yes, honey. How could I forget that?”