Placeholder name

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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.

Linguistic role[edit]

These placeholders typically function grammatically as nouns and can be used for people (e.g. John Doe, Jane Doe), objects (e.g. widget), locations ("Main Street"), 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.

Examples[edit]

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. Borrowed from French is je ne sais quoi ("I know not what").

Most of these words can be documented in at least the 19th 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. "X-ray" was originally a placeholder name for an unexplained phenomenon.

Companies and organizations[edit]

  • "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 is a regular English word from the Ancient Greek ἀκμή, 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 the case of Advent Corporation, founder Henry Kloss decided to adopt this placeholder name as the formal legal name of his new company.
  • "NewCo" or "Newco" is used in a similar way in British English for an as yet unnamed company.[citation needed]
  • Fictional brands such as Morley are often used in television and cinema as placeholders to avoid unintended product placement. 'Brand X' has been used in television advertisements as a generic brand representing any other brand than the one being advertised.
  • "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 plaques, trophy plates, etc. Occasionally appears on customizable promotional materials including stationery templates, business cards, advertising signage, cups, backpacks, and other "swag" samples.
  • "Contoso" is used as a fictional business in Microsoft's training materials.

Computing[edit]

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 are derived from foobar.[1]
  • Hacker slang includes a number of placeholders, such as frob 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.[2]
  • Johnny/Jane Appleseed, commonly used as a placeholder name by Apple.
  • Contoso is a fictional company name commonly used as an example in Microsoft documentation.

Domain names[edit]

Certain domain names in the format example.tld (such as example.com, example.net, and example.org) are officially reserved as placeholders for the purpose of presentation.[3] Various example reserved IP addresses exist in IPv4 and IPv6, such as 192.0.2.0 in IPv4 documentation and 2001:db8:: in IPv6 documentation.

Geographical locations[edit]

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

Something-stan, where something is often profanity, is commonly used as a placeholder for a Middle Eastern or South Asian country or for a politically disliked portion of one's own country.

Timbuktu, which happens to be a real city, is often used to mean a place that is far away, in the middle of nowhere, and/or exotic.

Podunk is used in American English for a hypothetical small town regarded as typically dull or insignificant, a place that you have likely never heard of, though still in the United States. Another example is East Cupcake to refer to a generic small town in the Midwestern United States.[4]

In New Zealand English, Wop-wops (alternatively Woop-woops, or more rarely in Australian English, Woop-woop) is the placeholder name for an out of the way location, usually rural and sparsely populated.[5]

In British English, Bongo Bongo Land (or Bongo-bongo Land) is a pejorative term used to refer to Third World countries, particularly in Africa, or to a fictional such country.

Legal[edit]

  • In the United States and Canada, 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.These parties also appear in the legal fictions of the action in ejectment, which was the usual proceeding to quiet title to real property under common law pleading.
  • Mopery: used in informal legal discussions as a placeholder for some infraction, when the exact nature of the infraction is not important.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]

Medicine[edit]

  • 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 (get out of my emergency room) is a name in medical slang for any patient who continually uses emergency room services for non-emergency conditions; its use is informal and pejorative. See Gomer for its possible origin.

Military[edit]

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

  • Tommy Atkins, the generic name for a soldier of the British Army. Also, colloquially, Bill Oddie, rhyming slang on the nickname 'squaddie'.
  • In the US 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.[6]
  • In the US Coast Guard, a generic Coast Guardsman is referred to as Joe Coastie (or Jane).
  • In the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines, a hypothetical member who has his act together is A.J. Squared-Away.
  • In the Canadian Armed Forces, the generic name for a soldier is Private/Corporal/rank Bloggins

In the British Army, the fictional Loamshire Regiment is used as a placeholder to provide examples for its procedures such as addressing mail or specimen charges for violations of military law.

Numbers[edit]

People[edit]

Spoken and written language[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Raymond, Eric. "Foo". The Jargon File (version 4.4.7). Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  2. ^ "J. Random". Catb.org. Retrieved 2012-10-06.
  3. ^ "Example.com".
  4. ^ Gail Collins (April 30, 2014). "It's Only a Million". New York Times. It will never occur to them that if voters had not given them that stint of public service, they would be processing divorce cases back home in East Cupcake.
  5. ^ "Woop Woop". Oxford Dictionaries.
  6. ^ "Terminal Lance #114 "Myths and Legends IV"". 18 March 2011.
  7. ^ "Telephone numbers for drama use (TV, Radio etc)". Retrieved 10 December 2014.