What is a type of word that can mean anything?

For example, there's a cartoon where the characters would say "Smurf" to refer to anything. It seemed to be used as a noun or verb.

There was another cartoon where the characters in the society would use the world "Og" to mean anything. It could be used in place of any word. Somehow, oddly enough, it is sometimes surprisingly easy to infer the meaning.

Bonus example, there have been movies where one guy talks to his friend and exclusively uses the word "dude" in a brief conversation. Somehow, oddly enough, it's also sometimes surprisingly easy to infer the meaning. :P

Is there a word that describes the type of word that is any word or almost any word? Wildcard word? Super word?

Can we invent the word if it doesn't exist? Why not?

  • Perhaps ambiguous? Or multipurpose? It depends on exactly what you're trying to express. – Jason Bassford Nov 15 '18 at 19:45

The situation of using a word in this way is often called Smurfing (TV Tropes). I could not find a term for such words themselves.

  • Is there a reason for the downvote? – Tashus Nov 15 '18 at 20:58
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    Sadly, SE does not require comments when downvoting, so you may never know who voted or why. It's cowardly and deceitful, but unless someone is serially downvoting in a way the admin algorithms can catch, you might just have to put up with it. I consider them a random act of vandalism, and try to maintain a zen-like demeanor when I get one. – Andrew Nov 15 '18 at 22:20
  • @Andrew I assume as much. I decided to ask on the off chance that the downvoter came back to check on this question, or (more likely) so that others who might see potential issues with the answer could take a guess as to the reason. Until someone points out something to change, I will leave the answer as it is and clear it from my mind as you suggest. – Tashus Nov 15 '18 at 22:26
  • Be aware that "smurfing" has a different meaning in the gaming community that is probably more common, so it might be confusing unless you explain what you mean (generally with a reference to The Smurfs and an example). In addition, it's used in banking for a particular kind of transaction used in financial crimes. – Andrew Nov 15 '18 at 22:32

In some contexts, such a word might be called a “placeholder”. But it would tend to stand for any thing within a specific class of things. It wouldn’t be normal for it to stand for absolutely anything .

Examples might be: “gizmo”, “widget”, “doofer”.

Also, in Ireland the word “yoke” is sometimes used to mean, simply, “thing”. So someone might point at some object they don’t recognize and ask, “What’s that yoke there?”

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    Thingie, whatzit, doodad, thingamabob, doohickey, whatchamacallit, thingamajig, doojigger, dingus ... the list is quite extensive :) – Andrew Nov 15 '18 at 22:36

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