veeblefetzer

The word for the morning was veeblefetzer; it just popped into my head, from goodness knows where. Its story leads us to comic strips.

From Wikipedia:

Veeblefetzer is a word usually used facetiously as a placeholder name for any obscure or complicated object or mechanism, such as automobile parts, computer code and model railroad equipment.

Etymology [more than a bit speculative, but it makes a nice story]: A 19th-century Yiddish language slang word with limited usage is generally accepted as the origin. In German, the verb weben means to “weave” [so Webel means ‘weaving’], while fetzen means to “rip” or “shred” [so Fetzer means ‘ripper, shredder’]. Textile mills of that period were crammed with loud, complicated and wildly active machinery.

Usage: During the 1940s, the inventor Alfred J. Gross, a pioneer of mobile communications, made an association of the word with modern technology. Gross invented the walkie-talkie and developed cordless remote telephone signaling (the precursor to the pager). He was the father of Citizens’ Band radio, and for his “handle” he used the pseudonym “Phineas Thadeus Veeblefetzer”.

A few years later, Harvey Kurtzman brought the word into popular usage in his comic book Mad. Over time, the word became a recurring running gag or catchphrase in the magazine, appearing in many articles by different authors. Will Elder’s parody, “Frank N. Stein”, was “set in the little European town of Veeblefetzer” in Mad 8 (December 1953). In the Kurtzman and Elder satire of the comic strip Gasoline Alley, titled “Gasoline Valley!”, in Mad 15 (September 1954), the character Skizziks opens a shop to repair cracked veeblefetzers. In subsequent issues, Kurtzman used the word for spoofs of big business, with the fictitious corporation “North American Veeblefetzer” featured in satires of in-house company newsletters, corporate annual reports and more.

Ah, yes, placeholder name. Again, from Wikipedia:

Placeholder names are words that can refer to objects or people whose names are temporarily forgotten, irrelevant, or unknown in the context in which they are being discussed.

These placeholders typically function grammatically as nouns and can be used for people (e.g., John Doe, Jane Doe), objects (e.g., widget) or places (e.g., Anytown, USA). They share a property with pronouns, because their referents must be supplied by context; but, unlike a pronoun, they may be used with no referent — the important part of the communication is not the thing nominally referred to by the placeholder, but the context in which the placeholder occurs.

Stuart Berg Flexner and Harold Wentworth’s Dictionary of American Slang (1960) uses the term kadigan for placeholder words. They define “kadigan” as a synonym for thingamajig. The term may have originated with Willard R. Espy, though others, such as David Annis, also used it (or cadigans) in their writing. Its etymology is obscure

The article goes on with a long series of examples of placeholder names, in a variety of contexts.

And that brings us to, of all things, Donald Duck, as drawn by cartoonist Don Rosa (about Rosa, on this blog, here). From a “Don Rosa in Review” site, on the strip Recalled Wreck of 1987:

The Story: Donald, in a surprising display of thriftiness, completely dismantles and re-everythings each part of his custom-built car (old 313). While Donald leaves to get a faulty part repaired, Neighbor Jones, seeing the parts on his lawn, sells them at his yard sale under the assumption that they were meant for the garbage. Donald must track down his misappropriated car parts piece by piece from his neighbors.

… When it comes to characters, this is the first of only two Neighbor Jones appearances. But more importantly we’ve got our first Rosa occurrence of a veeblefetzer.

This isn’t too surprising considering how much of a fan Rosa is of MAD Magazine, especially the Kurtzman/Elder team.

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