Why Does “Doohickey” Mean a Gadget?


A commonly held folk etymology for “doohickey” is that it derives from the mark left on a leaf after dew has evaporated, with said mark essentially being akin to a the skin-blemish definition of the word “hickey.” Thus, lacking a commonly known word for such, people referred to this dew mark as a “dew hickey,” with this later evolving to “doohickey” and eventually expanded to be used to refer to anything that was a “thing” one couldn’t come up with the name of. This origin story, however, has no documented evidence to support it and the evidence at hand seems to easily disprove it given that “hickey,” meaning “a skin blemish,” didn’t pop up until a couple decades after its inclusion in the word “doohickey.”

So where did the word “doohickey” actually come from? As with most words, it’s difficult to say when exactly people started using the term, but as for documented instances, it first appeared in the November 12, 1914 edition of Our Navy magazine, where it states, “We were compelled to christen articles beyond our ken with such names as ‘do-hickeys’, ‘gadgets’ and ‘gilguys’.”

(Incidentally, “gilguy” seems to be a much older term than placeholder names like doodad and doohickey, with the first documented instance appearing in Spunyarn & Spindrift- A Sailor Boy’s Log by Robert Brown in 1886, where Brown also notes one of the first known instances of “gadget”- “Then the names of all the other things on board a ship! I don’t know half of them yet; even the sailors forget at times, and if the exact name of anything they want happens to slip from their memory, they call it a chicken⁓fixing, or a gadjet, or a gill-guy, or a timmey-noggy, or a wim-wom—just…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

As content editor, I get to do what I love everyday. Tweet, share and promote the best content our tools find on a daily basis.

I have a crazy passion for #music, #celebrity #news & #fashion! I'm always out and about on Twitter.
Sasha Harriet

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