Laurie Barber | Thanks heavens for the word gismo

We were sitting in the computer class talking about all sorts of things, when  the subject turned to gismos – “my gismo doesn’t work”, “have you tried turning it on”, that sort of thing.

I wrote down the word gismo. It’s a word I grew up with, never knowing what it meant, but it covered all sorts of eventualities.

MOVIE STAR: Gismo covers many emergencies, but is best known - spelt Gizmo - as the small, furry mogwai in the 1984 movie Gremlins.

MOVIE STAR: Gismo covers many emergencies, but is best known - spelt Gizmo - as the small, furry mogwai in the 1984 movie Gremlins.

Gismo is a “highly technical” word that refers to anything you want it to cover, especially when you can’t think of the word you seek. But it does have a history. I checked about six dictionaries and only one touched on it, although I am sure there must be some that include the word.

My big 20-volume dictionary says a gismo, also spelt gizmo, is a “thingamajig”.

I told you the word was highly technical.

My big dictionary quotes Time magazine as trying to define the word.

On July 19, 1943, Time said gismo was “a term of universal significance, capable of meaning gadget, stuff, thing, whozis ( now there’s a new word) or almost anything the speaker wants it to”.

The dictionary went on to refer to many newspapers and magazines that used the word. 

Incidentally, whozis, also spelt  whosis, seems to have a Spanish background and means something for which a person has forgotten the name (or does not wish to remember).

Other words include whatchamacallit and thingamajig.

The word gizmo seeks to have many uses, apart from covering things that are better forgotten.

For instance, the word covers computer repairs, printers, motor garages, books (one author chose Gizmo as the title of his story), restaurants, horses and just about anything you can think of, or unthink as the case may be.

My big dictionary says the word is US slang whose origin is unknown.

Incidentally, while I was researching gizmo, I came across an item for gypsy. This, according to an item from around 1811, is a person who will tell your fortune “for a small portion of it”.

Of course, it doesn’t happen these days.

Some time ago (maybe several years) I wrote about breaking news. This was a news item on radio or television that was so important that the normal program was interrupted to report it.

Think about the disappearance of Harold Holt, or the dismissal of Gough Whitlam.

But “breaking news” has become increasingly popular in recent times to report on things like a Sydney road accident.

I recently turned on the news and an early item was “breaking news”.  It was in the headlines.

Now, the news is the news. It can’t break, surely. The program is there for the news. Or am I missing something here?