Gubbins: Fragments (originally of fish); odds and ends; gadgets.
Gubbins is an old word—it made its print debut in 1553—but it's brand new to me. I discovered it over the weekend in the fine blog of John McGarvey, a copywriter in Reading, England. And how could I fail to take note when he used it in this context:
I really rate Fritinancy, Nancy Friedman's blog about naming, writing and other related gubbins.
Gubbins, a plural noun that takes either a singular or plural verb, is rarely seen in the United States. It isn't included in the American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition); my other American dictionary, the unabridged Webster's Third, gives its use as "British" or "British dialect." The only American citation for gubbins in the online Oxford English Dictionary is this one:
1944 Amer. Speech XIX. 280 A gubbins is used to describe almost any part of the equipment of a plane, with about the same meaning as gadget.
I can't help wondering whether that usage was a World War II borrowing from the Royal Air Force.
Gubbins is a variant of an obsolete word, gobbon ("a portion, slice, gobbet"), which came into English from Old French gobon, which is related to gob (a mouthful, lump, or clot). It's one of many fanciful terms in English for "unspecified thing."1 From the WordNet entry for gubbins:
- S: (n) doodad, doohickey, doojigger, gimmick, gizmo, gismo, gubbins, thingamabob, thingumabob, thingmabob, thingamajig, thingumajig, thingmajig, thingummy, whatchamacallit2, whatchamacallum, whatsis, widget (something unspecified whose name is either forgotten or not known) "she eased the ball-shaped doodad back into its socket"; "there may be some great new gizmo around the corner that you will want to use"
The OED gives two additional definitions for gubbins: "a contemptuous name formerly given to the inhabitants of a district near Brent Tor on the edge of Dartmoor, who are said to have been absolute savages" and "a fool, a duffer."
I'm pretty sure John McGarvey's meaning was the first, "thingamabob" one. Thanks for the mention and the link, John, and thanks for introducing me to gubbins!
1 The term in linguistics for placeholder words like these is kadigan.
2 Anyone remember the Hershey's Whatchamacallit bar?