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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.
Placeholder names in English[edit source | editbeta]
These 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.
People[edit source | editbeta]
Placeholder expressions can refer to people as well. Among words or phrases used in English to refer to people of unknown or irrelevant name are:
- Tom, Dick and Harry, for a series of three specific unnamed (usually male) people; or for any number of unknown people, usually with the term "every", for example: "Every Tom, Dick and Harry showed up to the party". Harriet may sometimes be substituted for Harry for a more gender-balanced version of the phrase, or Sally may be added, as in the TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun. Originated in the Early Modern period of literature as Rafe, Robin, and Dick, who were often used as characters in plays.
- Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all: another placeholder phrase, in this case used to indicate a long list of people.
- So-and-so a neutral placeholder name, for example, If an idea came not from you but from a previous writer, when describing it you should say, "So-and-so said that ..." ; (separately) sometimes used as a euphemism for a possibly vulgar epithet, for example, "that stupid so-and-so!"
- Buddy (Newfoundland English), any male of unknown identity, often used in conjunction with "Whasisname".
- Joe Bloggs (British male, referring to anyone of unknown identity)
- Fred Bloggs (British male, referring to a subsequent unknown person)
- Bob Soap (alternative of Joe Bloggs)
- Charlie Farnsbarns (similar to Joe Bloggs)
- Fred Nerks or Fred Nerk or just Fred (as in "Fred, you can't turn right here" (Australian equivalent of Joe Bloggs))
- John Q. Public (American English for the public-at-large)
- John Q. Law or Johnny Law (American English for any law enforcement officer)
- Joe Public (British English): an average person in the street
- Grandpa/Grandma Walter any senior of unknown identity
- N.N. or A. N. Other (usually British English): unspecified person on a list, often abbreviated to ANO
- Joe Blow (North America): average male person
- Joe Sixpack (North America): average cheap-beer-drinking worker, slightly derogatory
- Joe Bunda (similar to Joe Sixpack but specific to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; also in Pittsburgh: Joe Matahratz and Joe Bagadonutz. Joe Bagadonutz is a particular favorite of Chicago Tribunecolumnist John Kass. Joe Bunda is also used at the United States Naval Academy.)
- Joe Shmoe (Regional America, especially northeast, southern Florida, southern California): average male person
- John (British English, colloquial term for male of unknown identity, also North American term for client of prostitute).
- John Doe/Jane Doe, originally a term in law, has expanded in North America to be used colloquially for any person or for a hypothetical average person. It is also used in police work to refer to an unidentified corpse.
- The Joneses (used as a placeholder for the typical average family, often one perceived to have higher social status or aspirations: Keeping up with the Joneses)
- Mrs Kafoops (Australian, slightly derogatory)
- Dat fella (Malaysian/Singaporean for "that fellow")
- Old mate (Australian; man, stranger or person)
- Yer man (Irish male)
- Yer wan (Irish female. Unlike the male form, sometimes used to connote contempt)
- Joe Soap (Irish English, refers to any typical person)
- Himself/Herself (Irish male/female)
- Lord/Lady Muck (Male/Female who is acting as if others are their servants)
- Frick and Frack (Indistinguishable Male pair)
- Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Indistinguishable Male pair, slightly derogatory)
- Grandma/Grandpa (a usually older adult lacking technical knowledge)
- PVT Snuffy, AMN Snuffy, Joe Snuffy (US military, referring to any general soldier or low-ranking individual)
- PVT, PFC or LCpl Schmuckatelli (Marine Corps, referring to any general low-ranking enlisted Marine)
- Joe Gish (U.S. Naval Academy for any Midshipman; his roommate is W.T. Door)
- Kadoogan (One example of 'kadigan' being used as a placeholder is in the Ren and Stimpy Show where Stimpy's last name is given as Kadoogan, a reference to the term kadigan.)[original research?]
- "Wendy Wellesley" is used as "Jane Doe" at Wellesley College
- Emmet and Grockle are mildly abusive yet affectionate West Country terms for tourists. "Emmet" is a dialect word for "ant".
- Matey is a West Country term for a person with whom one has an anticipated, temporary or intermittent personalised interaction restricted to specific requirements or actions, e.g. "We'd got as far as theOkehampton Bypass when we stopped to give Matey there a jump-start".
- Unsub (USA police usage): unnamed person, an unknown subject of an investigation
- Vic (USA police usage): unnamed person who is a crime victim
- Perp (USA police usage): unnamed person who committed a crime (the perpetrator).
- Fnu Lnu is used by authorities to identify unknown suspects, the name being an acronym for First Name Unknown, Last Name Unknown. If a person's first name is known but not the last, they may be called "John Lnu" or "Fnu Doe", and an unidentified person may be "Fnu Lnu". For example, a former interpreter for the United States military was charged as "FNU LNU", and a mute man whose identity could not be determined was arrested and charged with burglary in Harris County, Texas, under the name "FNU-LNU" (charges were later dropped because authorities could not communicate with the man). Fnu-Lnu conjunctions may also be used if the person has only a single name, as in Indonesian names. The name has been considered a source of humor when "Fnu Lnu" has been mistaken for the actual name of a person.
- PC/DC 0000 Robert Peel is a placename that is used for giving mock information about a police officer. Robert Peel is chosen because of origins of the British policing, and 0000 (or AA 0000 for the Met) is used, as no collar number can be four zeros. The Avengers character "Mrs. Peel" was named as the wife of such an "average" policeman.
- David Cohen used in Victorian times to refer to a Jewish immigrant who either could not be positively identified or whose name was too difficult for police to spell, in the same fashion that John Doe is used in the United States today.
- Mary is a term used in the Hawaiian Creole English speaking LGBTQ community to refer to a person (usually female, name known or unknown) when they've done something deemed bad, unacceptable, or ridiculous.
- Mister X
Certain fixed expressions are used as placeholder names in a number of specialized contexts. People sometimes speak of Old So-and-so or What's-'is-name or What's-'is-face (cruder) or Miss Thing (popular in the southern US states, where it refers to a female who thinks herself better than other people, and often pronounced Miss Thang). Tommy Atkins is a mythical Briton who filled out all his forms correctly and as such lent his name to British soldiers generally; his Canadian counterpart is "Corporal (or some other rank) Bloggins". John Smith, often from "Anytown, U.S.A.", and John Q. Public are also used as placeholder names for unnamed citizens, and similarly in Britain one might refer to Joe Bloggs. "Joe Random" and "Joe Average" are also referred to, sometimes more specifically as "Joe Average Voter" or "Joe Random Customer". In Australia, the name John Citizen is used in a similar capacity on samples of forms or cards. In America, Joe or Jane Sixpack refers to the perceived average middle or working class person. In theatre, television, and motion pictures, the great actors Walter Plinge, David Agnew, and George Spelvin are pseudonyms used for cast members who prefer to go unnamed. The name Alan Smithee is similarly used by film directors who wish to remain pseudonymous (often because their film did not turn out well). Conversely, placeholders can be used to conceal identity, as seen in the above Gilbert and Sullivan lyrics. The Newfoundland entertainer "Buddy Whasisname" derives his stage name from a common local usage (combining two terms) denoting an unknown male.
Movies and theatre also give rise to another specific type of placeholder, the MacGuffin. This is any object or person used to drive a plot or as the goal of a quest, but which otherwise has no relevance to the action, and thus could be replaced in the script with another similar item with no loss of sense. A foozle is a generic enemy or group of enemies that must be defeated for the plot to move on in a game. Scriptwriters for science fiction productions such as 'Star Trek' often use the word "TECH" as a placeholder which the show's technical adviser can later replace with some plausible-sounding detail (e.g., a type of radiation or particles).
Cryptographers conventionally use a fixed cast of characters when describing their systems in general terms. For example, the quintessential cryptographic system has Alice wanting to send a message toBob without Eve being able to eavesdrop on them. These names are even used in formal, peer-reviewed papers in the field, see Alice and Bob.