LINGUIST List 14.1137

Thu Apr 17 2003

Sum: Place-Holder Words

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. Fabrice Emont, Summary

Message 1: Summary

Date: Sat, 12 Apr 2003 16:30:44 +0200
From: Fabrice Emont <>
Subject: Summary

Last January, I posted a query (Linguist 14.57) about placeholder
words. Here's the summary.

Many thanks to those who answered my query :

Anastasia Parianou
Andreas Ammann
Chris Schmidt
Elisabeth van der Linden
Fay Wouk
Freek Van de Velde
Ghil`ad Zuckermann
Isabelle Buchstaller
Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho
Johanna Laakso
Karin Stiegler
Karl Reinhardt
Marc Picard
Marcello Modesto
Marie-Lucie Tarpent
Mike Cahill
Nancy Sreenan
Patricia Donaher
Peter Menzel
Rebecca Larche Moreton

Mainly: generic word, specialized word, lexicalized clause
(what-his-name), demonstrative, pronoun.

things: patente, affaire
humans: chose


Humans : Fulano. For a 2nd and 3rd name: Sicrano (Siclano) and then
Things (in Brazil): coisa "thing" (can be conjugated: coisar "to
thing"), neg�cio "business" and (within a certain region) trem
No placeholder for syllables


No clear counterparts for a universal placeholder.
-Generic words are used: asia "thing, matter", kama "matter, material,
things", homma "job", vehje / vekotin "thing, instrument, tool", juttu
"story, case".
-Interrogative pronouns with 'indefinite' additions.

-ize (etymologically unclear).
-micsoda ("what-wonder", "what on earth", also as normal interrogative
-hogyish�vjak "however they call it".
These can be inflected or used as a base for derived verbs (suffixes
-l-, -z-).


North Sami: ahta "thing, worthless thing" (speaker cannot remember
the name of it)
derived form: ahtat "do something undefined" (speaker does not
remember the right word)
At least in Inari Sami and Lule Sami, it seems to be used in
sexual connotations as well.

-dinges (can be conjugated)
-je weet wel (litt: "you know well")
-huppelepup (mainly used by women)

-Dingsbums, Dingens, Dings, Dingsda
As a verb: dingsen or dingen.
-Teil "part".
-Only in the Plural: Zeug "stuff".

dooflicky, thingamajig, doodad, what's-his/her-name, whatsit, dealie 
(Chicago suburb ?), what-d'you-call-it, yoke (Anglo-Irish for referring 
to things), etc. No fixed spelling.

KONNI (Northern Ghana)
- n jaa-bU gee
 1s thing-the this = "my this-thing"
- dis-ding (< English "this-thing") for an object whose name the
speaker doesn't know or has temporarily forgotten.

-soz (< french "chose")

-forgotten name: EKH KORIM LO (what's-his-name)
-taboo word : haKLI (tool)/haMAKHSHIR (machine)/haDAVAR (thing)...
-easily identified ("le machin bleu") : HADAVAR (the thing) hakakhol
(the blue) HAZE (this)
-category : veMA SHEATA LO ROTSE (and what(ever) you do not want)/veMA
SHEATA ROTSE and what(ever) you want).
-unknown thing : MASHEHU (something)

-me ton kyrio tade "with Mr. so-and-so"
-"Burkina-machinchose" : Burkina-ayto "Burkina-that", Burkina-pes' to 
"Burkina-say-it", Burkina-pos to leme/lene 
-taboo word : ta ayta toy "his these" = ta tetoia toy/ta apo tetoia 
toy. (male anatomic parts only).
-easily identified ("le machin bleu"): to pos to lene "the 
-category: gia to ena kai to allo "about the one and the other".
-unknown thing: kati "something".
-pejorative: the pejorative 'prama' instead of the formal 'pragma'

-In Sasak (island of Lombok, Indonesia), a cognate form : onuq.
Both words have no meaning on their own.
-Also (Indonesian): the demonstratives ini "this" and itu "that" and 
the question word apa "what".
They replace nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, whole clauses. Can take 
verbal affixes and replace lexical verbs.

NISQA'A (W. Canada)
-anwin "what one holds or has in one's hand"
-k'an "something that belongs to one"
both are obligatorily possessed nouns;
-wil "to be/do", intransitive verb also used as a noun.
Not informal/slangy words.
-Proper name: K'inaa "So-and-So, Machin(e)" < k'i-naa (naa = who?), or 
k'an-aa (k'an "own").

Information on other languages is welcome!

Fabrice Emont

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