Speculative Grammarian is proud to present yet another irregular installment in the Linguistic Anthropologic Monograph Endowment’s Bizarre Grammars of the World Series.
Grammaticalization of and Generalizations to
What’s-PRO-Face Among Annoying Pre-Teens0
Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 71
We1 have been taught by our parents to respect our elders, but we have been shocked at the lack of attention paid by grown-up linguists to the interesting and evolving phenomena occurring in our midst. Of course, grown-ups think linguistics is their ally. But they merely adopted linguistic sophistication; we were born in it, molded by it. We didn’t see linguistic naïveté until we started kindergarten; by then it was nothing to us but blinding!
We are students in Ms. Aɡ̊ǀʱop’a Tating’s third grade class on Experimental Meta-Phonotactics at the Institute for Sub-Saharan and Other Studies. One of our classmates, Suzie Redacted]-Allianzname, pointed out an interesting usage by her otherwise extremely annoying pre-teen brother and his equally annoying friends.
Ted “Theodore” Redacted]-Allianzname and his cohort (average age 11.62 ± 0.475894657282) were also in Ms. Aɡ̊ǀʱop’a’s third grade class some years ago. However, they did not benefit from Ms. Uɬoŋǀʱat̠ʃʼa Tating’s foundational course, “Phonetics for First Graders,” and so they never were able to properly pronounce Ms. Aɡ̊ǀʱop’a’s name. They called her Ms. What’s-her-face. At first they were careful not to call her that to her face, but eventually one of the students slipped up, and called her Ms. What’s-your-face.
Ms. Aɡ̊ǀʱop’a is a sweet and understanding person who is well aware of the pronunciation difficulties her name causes outside the Tating clan. (Ms. Aɡ̊ǀʱop’a and Ms. Uɬoŋǀʱat̠ʃʼa’s father Simon M. Tating, had some interesting ideas about both phonetics and onomastics.) As such, she even went so far as to refer to herself as Ms. What’s-my-face once or twice, before the administration of the Institute for Sub-Saharan and Other Studies stepped in and forced her to stop, citing concerns about professionalism on her part and proper respect on the part of the students.
By that time, it was too late.
In addition to the more generalized use of what’s-her/his-face and its derivatives—including what’s-your-face, what’s-my-face and the interestingly grammaticalized plural what’s-their-face—to refer to once unknown individuals, significant reänalysis and generalization of similar constructions has occurred within this speaker population.
An unknown thing the hearer is expected to know is a what-cha-ma-call-it, though if a third party is expected to know what it is, it’s a what-he-ma-call-it. A speaker can indicate their cruelty and unwillingness to help a struggling interlocutor—or perhaps falsely signal knowledge of the unnamed thing—by referring to it as a what-I-ma-call-it.
The obvious pattern of whozits and whatzits has been expanded to howzits, whyzits, whenzits, and wherezits to refer to unknown methods, motivations, times, and places. The pattern was then expanded to a reänalyzed hoodigger.
By chance, Ms. Aɡ̊ǀʱop’a’s class includes two boys, Jiggs and Bobby, who are good friends. The placeholders thing-a-ma-bob and thing-a-ma-jig were jocularly and intentionally reänalyzed as singular thing-a-ma-bobby and plural thing-a-ma-jiggs. The usage stuck until Bobby decided he’d had enough and wanted to go by Robert. Of course, thing-a-ma-robert became a formal variant, before the whole thing was generalized to thing-a-ma-suzie, thing-a-ma-ted, thing-a-ma-theodore, thing-a-ma-helgi, thing-a-ma-claudette, etc.—each now referring to thing each child momentarily forgot the name of.
However, over time, thing-a-ma-ms-aɡ̊ǀʱop’a came to be deemed ungrammatical, as noun classes developed. The term doo-dad and derivative doo-mom became the basis for a “grown-ups” noun class, so that doo-ms-aɡ̊ǀʱop’a came to be the preferred term.
We hesitate to report it—since our informant on the matter, K8tlyn Jea9 van Hou10, is notoriously unreliable, onomastically disastrous, and a rumored bed-wetter—but it is possible that doo-ms-what’s-her-face may have occurred in vivo.
Two other notable noun classes have evolved so far. One is for animals—catawumpus, dogawumpus, hippopotamusawumpus, etc. The other is limited to older members of the cohort who have (or have claimed to have—those hairs on your chin looked glued on, Ted!) begun puberty, and is based on do-hickey, We have been forbidden by our parents to investigate it until we are “old enough”.
As linguists, we find these developments fascinating; as native speakers, revolting. How are these children ever going to get into good colleges, other than as research subjects? Suzie’s brother and his friends—while linguistically interesting—are personally incredibly annoying.
Beyond that, more research is necessary to unravel the intricacies of this system. Said research will require more and abundant funding.
Also note that our research agenda would be greatly enhanced by a decrease in mandatory vegetable consumption.
Helgi von Helganschtein Searsplainpockets &
Claudette von Helganschtein Searsplainpockets
Somewhere in Our Parents’ Basement
0 This paper was made possible by LAME Junior grant #00000001, and the letter .
1 [Of course, Helgi and Claudette are the precocious offspring of our favorite bizarre grammar fieldwork power couple, Claude Searsplainpockets & Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets. The twins are—what?—eight years old now, and they already write wonderful grant proposals. We couldn’t be more proud! —Editorial Aunties and Uncles]
2 Yes, every one of those digits is significant.