Apparently “doobalackie” is not a universal word for “thingamybob”—you know, that thing for which you do not have a name, that “doohickie”. I had no idea it was just us Australians who reach for doobalackies.

Is it just us? Any South Africans or New Zealanders or Jamaicans or English or Welsh or Irish or Scottish people care to weigh in? What do you call the thingie for which you do not at that moment have a name?

I learned the non-Americanness of doobalackie from the the livejournal devoted to Megan Whalen Turner’s fabulous Attolia trilogy which recently discussed my worship of said trilogy1 and wound up discussing a bunch of different Aussieisms.

The whole thing got me curious so I looked up “dooberlackie” in the Macquarie Dictionary and discovered it’s supposed to be spelled “dooverlackie” or “doovahlackie”. To be honest I’ve never seen it written down before, only heard it. That aside, spelling is not my strong point. Dunno if I’m gunna budge from dooberlackie, but. That’s how it sounds in me head. You should never mess with your own head.

It’s amazing how many words I thought were universal turn out to be Aussiesm or, at least, not much known in the US. Usians don’t do the whole brekkie, pressie, chrissie, journo, muso thing. They have no mates called Dazza or Shazza. They don’t squiz at stuff or chuck a right. They’re never lizard flat-out. They don’t know what bitumen is. And the way they pronounce “condom” is deeply strange.

How many of you English speakers have discovered that some of the words and expression you thought were global English turn out to be just from your part of the world? What words were they? Share!

In other news: it stopped snowing but it’s still too bloody cold. Also I am reading the second Buddha and I am in heaven. I heart Osamu Tezuka. Thanks, Anne!

Oh, crap, now it’s snowing again. Aaargh!!!

  1. Are there still any of you who haven’t read Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia trilogy (The Thief, Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia)? If not, why not? On your bikes! []


  1. jessiegirl on #

    how do you pronounce condom?

    i had an aussie penpal for years. her letters were peppered with the word heaps. christmas brought about phrases like “heaps of pressies”

    i’m in pennsylvania, but i grew up in new jersey. when i first moved out here my friend said, “i have to go rid up my room” which was total gibberish to me, then i found out it meant clean, straighten up.

    the funniest one was when the school nurse brought my brother home and said, “he has a hickey on his head.” since he was an eight year old i was pretty shocked. I looked for a what i knew to be a hickey and then the nurse said, “see. look at that huge bump on his forehead.” thankfully i hadn’t said anything embarrassing.

  2. Ally on #

    I use thingamybob and thingamyjiger and alot of other words i can’t think of at the moment

  3. robin on #

    This is a game we used to play all the time in college, to great delight. It was there that I learned that the sleepover game I’d always known as “Whisper Down the Lane” is known nation-wide (for all I know, world-wide) as “Telephone.” Deeply unnerving.

  4. Dan Goodman on #

    jessiegirl: You’re in western Pennsylvania, right? Dialect area whose English has been influenced by Scots and Ulster Scots. “Rid up” is also spelled “redd up.” It’s from Scots.

    Justine: On the other side of the scales, I’ve seen “youse” listed among Australian words which Americans wouldn’t know. It used to be common in the New York Metropolitan Dialect, and I recall reading that it comes from Irish English.

  5. Dess on #

    wow dielects are rather confusing. im from pennsylvania and i have never heard hickey and rid up used in those contexts. (ive never heard rid up) what do those aussie words mean, Justine? like muso, brekkie, bitumen? what does that all mean? i went to arizona visit relatives and didnt understand half the things people were saying. so confusing.

  6. shelly rae on #

    I’m just starting king of attoilia now. Terrific books those!

    Around these here parts we use, “whatsis”, or “gizmo” and sometimes “doohickey”. But for other language oddities? Well, I speak the English of the West Coast which seems to prevail in tv, movies, and other media so it’s rare that I say anything in a manner that surprises people. Even those from Oz. I love it when you say “rubbish” though, would you be so very kind as to whisper it in my ear?

  7. Ellen on #


  8. Chris McLaren on #

    One of the apparently uniquely Canadian words is “toque”. The Americans I know in the North East call toques “ski hats”. Apparently Australians call them “beanies”.

    When I hear “beanie”, I think “propeller beanie”, which made for some mental comedy when I was recently reading some Peter Temple mysteries–you kind of get kicked out of the book when the author is describing the clothing of a hard man and includes a “beanie” and your mental picture goes to a rainbow coloured thing with a prop on top.

  9. Diana on #

    Yes, I too must know how Justine pronounces condom. Is it how Bridget Jones does? Because that was awesome.

  10. Little Willow on #

    I have never heard that word before.

  11. Justine on #

    I pronounce “condom” with an even emphasis on both vowels; most Americans I’ve heard saying the word put the emphasis on the first vowel. Plus the second syllable sounds totally different. I say con-dom. Scott says conduhm.

    Robin: I learned that the sleepover game I’d always known as “Whisper Down the Lane” is known nation-wide (for all I know, world-wide) as “Telephone.”

    I grew up calling it Chinese whispers. So you Americans are less racist than us. I wonder if that’s what it’s still called back home?

    Dan Goodman: On the other side of the scales, I’ve seen “youse” listed among Australian words which Americans wouldn’t know. It used to be common in the New York Metropolitan Dialect

    It’s still common enough that I’ve heard it a bunch of times from both New Yorkers and New Jerseyites. And when I’ve used it locals here in NYC have assumed I was mocking them. (I have the same problem with “reckon” amongst Southerners.)

    Dess: what do those Aussie words mean, Justine? like muso, brekkie, bitumen?

    Muso is short for musician, brekkie for breakfast. Learn about bitumen here.

    Chris: How do you pronounce “toque”. I never heard of propeller beanies until I was researching science fiction for my PhD.

  12. Dawn on #

    I don’t know, we call them beanies here in Kansas. I don’t know about the rest of the US, but around here “tight” is another word for cool. I’ve been informed that since I’ve left high school, people have started using “cold” as a another word for cool. I’ve also never really been aware of the fact that Kansans actually have accents, but apparently we don’t pronounce our “o”‘s the right way. Or pronounce mountains correctly. When I say it it sounds like mount-un. Instead of what I was told would be correct is mount-ten. Or Oregon. I say Or-gun, and apparently it’s or-ee-gon. Words…accents…funny stuff.

  13. Chris McLaren on #

    Um… I guess like “took” from Tolkien and not like “took” the past form of “to take”.


    Um… Imagine you were saying “too” like “too many” and then you add a K sound.

    Apparently it’s also spelt “tuque”. It’s one of those fine words that arose out of the mishmash of French and English.

  14. Malcolm on #


    At the risk of being excluded from your idea of “just us Australians”, I don’t know doobalackie either, although I can work it out. In fact, when I read it, I thought you’d made a typo. I do use “dooverlackie” quite lot — a dooverlackie is much more useful than a thingamebob and can get you out of more tight spots. My Australian slang dictionary lists dooverlackie but not doobalackie (or any variant spellings with a ‘b’). Google is similarly unhelpful. All the top hits are an interview with *you*!

    I think this word may be even more local than you think.

  15. Ally on #

    Justine, do yall say “yall”? I was just wondering if it was a southern thing or all over thing. Alot of older people here say stuff like “reckon” and “down yander”. Like i grew up in Stuttgart(Arkansas not Germany) which is like the countryish place ever so thats why I talk like a hick..ask scott if you don’t know what that means. But now I live in conway which is a city but nothing like new york or anything so people don’t talk like that here so i get made fun of haha

  16. Ally on #

    i think i’m going to use dooberlakie now.. its fun to say haha 🙂

  17. Damien Warman on #

    (lazing away a Good Friday in sunny Adelaide)
    I always thought that dooverlackie was a drwan out doover, and a doover was originally either something that would do in a pinch (“do for now”), or else that it was something French, maybe like a truc d’ouvrier, a worker’s wossname…

    Hmm. The SOED thinks it’s a doofer.

  18. John H on #

    I’ve used a whatchamacallit and a doohickey, and occasionally a whatsit or a thingamebob. Never heard of a doobalackie (or dooverlackie, for that matter)…

  19. Ted Lemon on #

    A friend of mine from Melbourne says “you lot” instead of the more correct “youse” or “you all.” :’) It’s fun hanging out with her – she has all kinds of strange words like bickies and nappies and serviettes (dunno if that’s how it’s spelt). To me, the australian usage of “jumper” is quite weird – in the states I think of a “jumper” as something a baby wears, with integrated booties. So when an adult talks about putting on a jumper, it’s rather comical.

  20. Chris S. on #

    When I worked down under, it didn’t seem slang so much as natural shortcutting. As in, make it shorter and add a vowel. Like ‘Let’s go to the servo for smoko this arvo’.

    Thing, thingie, whatsit, thingamabob, thingamajig, and when language fails entirely, noun, accompanied by pathetic mime. Like, ‘Pass me that… that… (flap hand, waggle fingers)… that noun there… yeah, that one…”

  21. John H on #

    Well, in the UK they also refer to sweaters as jumpers. Not sure where it originated, but so far that usage hasn’t caught on in North America.

    (I’m also at a loss to say what a sweater has to do with jumping, but that’s a different story…)

  22. calliope on #

    i love dooberlackie and plan to use it all the time.
    ill say thingamajig, whatchamacallit, thing, thingie, ummmmm, 2whatsitcalled, what the heck is that called.

  23. Walter Jon Williams on #

    Norman Spinrad says “youse,” which is understandable given the borough of New York he is from.

    But when he speaks French he says “vouse,” a usage uncommon in any borough, anywhere.

  24. Cat on #

    I live in South Louisiana and no one else seems to know what the phrase “Oh sha!” means or what we’re talking about when we ask “Are you getting down?” or what it means to “save” something, as in telling a little girl to save her doll. And, of course, our language is peppered with French phrases that no one gets.

  25. Cat on #

    Also, I use thingamajig alot. Sometimes, mulitiple times in one sentence. For example: “Mom, look! There’s a thingamajig on top of that htingamajig in the thingamajig!” Mom just stared at me and we were on the highway, so by the time I explained it was too late for her to look. In you were wondering, the first thingamajig was a bird, the second was a rollercoaster, and the third was an amusment park.

  26. Justine on #

    Ally: When I use “y’all” I do it in a imitating Scott’s relatives way. His grandma also says stuff like afixin’ as in “I’m afixin’ to do that”. I love it! But, yes, “y’all” is a very Southern parts of the USA thing.

    Ted Lemon: “you lot” is just as acceptable as “youse”. I prolly use “you lot” more often than “youse”. “You mob” is another one. English is sadly lacking in formal you plurals.

    John H.: I have no idea of the origins of either “jumper” or “sweater”. I assumed that “jumper” was older but I have no evidence for that.

    Cat: Isn’t “oh sha!” “Oh chere” as in “oh dear” or “Oh Darling?”

    Walter Jon Williams: I don’t hold with froggy talking, no how.

  27. Ally on #

    Thats what i figured

  28. Cat on #

    We use “Oh sha” to mean “oh look at the cute little baby/puppy/really tiny pair of shoes”

  29. Ron on #

    definitely “dooverlacky” with a “v” in our house – never heard it pronounced with a “b” innit before…

    also “thingamajig” and “wotsis”. and “bedoover”

    does hugh lunn claarify “doover-/doober-lacky” question in that silly book on oz slang wot i gave you? maybe it’s a different state thang? (tho’ you and i are from nsw so that theory doesn’t really hold water!)

  30. Ally on #

    what is oz?!?!

  31. Dess on #

    australia i suppose

  32. Emmaco on #

    Sorry for the late comment (Easter holiday) but I just wanted to say that I still think it’s spelt doobalackie, no matter what the Macquarie says 🙂

    And I meant to send you the link to the Sounis discussion earlier, but forgot – I’m glad you found it!

  33. Justine on #

    Emmaco: It’s you and me against the stupid Macquarie and everyone else who spells it with a smelly “v”. I spit at their “v”s. Ptoui!

  34. lili on #

    i always said ‘doobywacker’, but i think i may be alone there.

    and it’s still called ‘chinese whispers’.

    i love learning the aussie words that no one else knows that i think are completely normal. like doona. and capsicum. and milk bar.

  35. Emmaco on #

    sorry, Lili, doobywacker is just weird 🙂

    Doona is Australian?!

  36. lili on #

    yep. the brits say duvet, and the usians say… quilt? i think? dunno. it’s just us and the kiwis with doonas.


    according to wikipedia…

    from a trademarked brand name derived from the Old Norse dunn meaning “down feathers”.

  37. Fence on #

    Here in Ireland we often use yoke for a thingymebob. But I have to say that I was really surprised when I learned that the rest of the world doesn’t say press for cupboard 🙂

  38. Dess on #

    in the us we say comforter or quilt for what you call a doona.

  39. Elmo on #

    do you know another word that a lot of people don’t know is actually pure Australian slang: Ugg Boots.
    and I was really scared when I found out that people from other countries hear our ‘i’s as ‘oi’s, and our ‘a’s as ‘i’s…scarey…

  40. Tap on #

    Speaking for I don’t know who, I am an American who knows some South Africans, and they and the people around them use “muso” (actually, it’s almost in the plural as “musos.”) So it probably isn’t just Australia.

  41. Blue Tyson on #

    My spousal unit is a septic (and an aussie, too, now). The whole davo, johnno, jacko, arvo, smoko thing bugs her, how do you _know_ which abbreviation etc. to use she has complained on several occasions.

    Very funny.

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