GIZMO: unspecified item, a “thing”


More often than not, the use of the word gizmo is the result of having stumbled across something for which there is no name, or something whose name you have forgotten.  How often, in the middle of a presentation or class, has the teacher pointed to something which the student is supposed to touch, turn on,or switch, only to come up blank?

The presentation continues something like this:

So…to make this all work…you have to press this…gizmo...right here (pointing to it) and wait  ten seconds for it to activate.”

It’s a flub.   The word just isn’t coming to you.  You are praying silently that the students don’t ask what it’s called.

We are told that the term gizmo came about during World War II when technology was racing ahead…much faster than our brains were functioning.   In the military the technology was rampant.   Trying to explain how to use a device meant having to learn all kinds of new words that grew out of the technology explosion.   Not wanting to seem ignorant, a trainer would simply substitute the word gizmo for the lost name of the device and continue right on as if it was all planned.

After the war, the word became a part of the everyday language of Americans.   The use of technological language was foreign to many of us who had never received any training in electronics, television, mechanics, or industrial manufacturing.   Gizmo was not the only word that was employed to cover our ignorance.  It was quite common to hear someone say such things as:

  • “This thingee right here is the activating button.”
  • You have to have turned on this watchmacallit in order to get it to function.”
  • Or,
  • “This gizmo is the answer to it all.  Just flip it on and see what happens.”

When you come right down to it, the word gizmo and its sibling terms are very practical.   Most of us wouldn’t have understood the technical name for the device to begin with.   Gizmo worked just fine.

Now, if I can just get this “publish” gizmo to work, I’ll get this post out to you.


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