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In contemporary American English, what do you call a person you’ve temporarily forgotten the name of? Let’s suppose the following scenario. What would you use to fill in the blank?

Bill: Hey, Jack, do you remember our high school days?
Jack: Yea, Bill. Those were the days.
Bill: We have a lot of memories together.
Jack: Heh—do you remember last year's math teacher? Mr. umm. . . you say his name. . . shoot, I cannot remember his name. . . Mr. ____________ . . . Aha! Mr. Smith.

  1. doodah
  2. thingy

My guess is that only option 1 works here.

Is there any other common choice for this concept in AmE? I need to know the most common one.

  • Interestingly, your second suggestion is used in some places. Anyone you don't know in New Zealand is named Thingy or Thing. It would definitely be out of place in the US, but people would still likely get the point. – Magus Oct 1 '14 at 20:50
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    There's always the informal 'that dude/guy/bro/man' choice. I don't think Mr Doodah would be well received. – TankorSmash Oct 1 '14 at 21:12
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    @TylerJamesYoung Is that an actual term people use? I've never heard it before. – snailcar Oct 2 '14 at 23:25
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    Side note - I don't know of any American that would use the word doodah. I had to look it up as I've never heard of it before. It turns out that it's an alternate spelling of doodad (it's much less common). books.google.com/ngrams/… – MiniRagnarok Oct 3 '14 at 13:11
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    @snailboat Just heard it on Modern Family! “I’m not sure I loved being called ‘Miss Thing’”. – Tyler James Young Oct 10 '14 at 16:13
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I think your examples would be understandable to contemporary speakers of AmE, but they are usually reserved for objects with forgotten identities. That being said, comments and synonyms of the terms below have shown me that there is a lot of carryover from object name placeholders to those for people. This is probably due to the fact that the person’s name itself could function as the forgotten object.

Some commonly used alternatives are:

  • what’s-his-name
    • also: what’s-his-face with the same meaning, but more casual/irreverent
    • These two are very common
    • The phrase is treated almost like one word. When written, the spaces are usually removed or replaced with hyphens. The pronunciation also shifts. The "h" becomes silent, the s merges into the next word, and everything flows like one word. The stress is on the first syllable. What'siz-name, what'ser-name, what'siz-face or what'ser-face.
  • who’s-it
  • Mr. ‘S’-something
    • Another common tactic is to vocalize whatever scraps of the person’s name you remember, interspersed with instances of the word “something” for missing parts
    • This can be combined with intentionally unintelligible mumbling, extending the last sound of the portion your remember (Mr. Smmm. . .), or include guesses that you know sound similar to the intended name even though you know they are wrong, such as Mr. Smiley or Mr. Schmidt
  • so-and-so
    • This one doesn’t really fit for your example, but would be used in cases where the speaker doesn’t care what the person’s name is or deems it irrelevant to the statement
    • This has been used as a euphemism for stronger insults in the past, so it is occasionally used these days as a form of quaint derision: You old so-and-so!

All of these are informal, and can be humorous in the right context.

As for which is the most common, my guess would be what’s-his-face—based solely on my own experience. This is also the least formal option on the list, so maybe it makes sense that I would hear it more than the others during the informal conversations that permeate my informal American life.

  • His words are not just for objects with forgotten identities but objects with unknown identities also. And maybe it's regional but I would pick what's-his-name as most common. – Loren Pechtel Oct 1 '14 at 21:13
  • @Loren I agree (that’s why I wrote that OP’s examples would be understood). I’ve expanded in that vein with my latest edit. – Tyler James Young Oct 1 '14 at 21:25
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    As a native American English speaker, "what's-his-name" and "what's-his-face" are immediately understandable. Note that "what's-his-face" is somewhat irreverent, but not insulting. It would work well with the light, conversational tone given in the OP. – zourtney Oct 1 '14 at 22:49
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    One little wrinkle: usually I find so-and-so is used for elided (irrelevant) names rather than forgotten (relevant) ones. That is, if you're relating a story, you might say "He told me, 'Oh, talk to so-and-so in Accounting and he'll help you.'" But in your original example, it would sound odd to say, "Do you remember Mr. So-and-So?" (FWIW, I'm an AmE speaker from the Midwest, and this might be regional.) – Arkaaito Oct 2 '14 at 22:25
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    A friend of mine at church recently commented that a nice thing about church over, say, an office, is that if you forget someone's name you can always say "Hello, brother!" and likely no one will notice that you didn't use his name. :-) – Jay Dec 31 '15 at 19:24
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The other answers are good (especially what's-his-name what's-her-name) for when you're referring to the person.

But when you're talking directly to the person, you use 'Hey' when addressing them.

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    @Matthew_Flaschen In the situation you describe, "Hey" is used as a greeting or salutation, not as a name. Some people consider "Hey" to be rude. – Jasper Oct 2 '14 at 1:41
  • @Jasper, yes, the answer is tongue in cheek. :) But it's also accurate in that many people do use this technique when they've forgotten someone's name. – Matthew Flaschen Oct 2 '14 at 5:52
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    "Hey" in this sense is a greeting, not a reference to the person's name. If I call out "Hey!" to someone I can't remember, I'm just trying to get their attention; I wouldn't say that I'm "calling them 'Hey'." – J.R. Oct 2 '14 at 21:56
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    As a tongue-in-cheek comment, I would have upvoted this. – Kyle Strand Oct 3 '14 at 0:23
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    As others have noted, 'Hey' is not the name you're assigning the person, it's your greeting or attention-getter. "Dude", "Bub", etc would be fill-in names. – Doc Oct 3 '14 at 5:38
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a vintage alternative is pronounced 'Whatch-calt', as in "Whatch-calt came by with your books today."

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    That's an interesting phrase - I've never seen it before and Google is turning up zero results. Is it spelled correctly? It seems like something that might be regional. – ColleenV Oct 1 '14 at 21:53
  • @ColleenV Try “whatchamacallit”–“A metasyntactic term used for any object whose actual name the speaker doesn’t know or can’t remember.” It even has a candy. – Tyler James Young Oct 1 '14 at 22:06
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    Yeah I'm familiar with whatchamacallit, which refers to an object, but not whatch-calt as referring to a person. – ColleenV Oct 1 '14 at 23:01
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    I think one is just a (regional? quaint?) corruption of the other. I’ve never heard “whatch-calt” either. As for the other aspect, see the first paragraph of my answer for my take on object placeholders being used as name placeholders. This deep in the informal register, I’d imagine there’s a lot of room for casual cross-application. – Tyler James Young Oct 1 '14 at 23:24
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    I think this is a novel spelling of whatchacallit. I agree with Colleen―in my dialect it can't be used for people. – snailcar Oct 2 '14 at 23:24

protected by Community Oct 2 '14 at 0:09

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