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What is a Gizmo?

"Gizmo" is a term coined for working mechanical parts, like the gears of a bicycle.
The phrase "gizmo" can also be used to describe electronic devices such as a modern cell phone.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 July 2014
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People may have a gizmo or two in their washing machines, several thingamajigs in a car, and a few gadgets or a widget in a dishwasher. It wouldn’t be surprising if the appliances in a home also contained some thingies and thingamabobs. They’re all nondescript terms for mechanical parts or freestanding mechanical items.

The use of the word "gizmo," which can also be spelled gismo, is recent. During World War II, the US Navy began using the term, and sailors returning from the war quickly turned the word into common usage. Recorded writings that include the word don’t appear until the mid-1940s and early '50s.

Essentially, the term was used to describe a working mechanical part. Since mechanized equipment contained so many parts, the name might escape a person for a moment, who could say “Well it looks like that gizmo isn’t working properly.” It’s almost a fill word for lapse in memory, though soon the word simply applied to any running mechanical piece.

World War II was also a time when pilots, soldiers, and sailors might have lightly referred to mechanical failures as caused by gremlins. In cartoons of this era, gremlins were often depicted as removing a part or two from various moving vehicles. In tribute to the concept, Steven Spielberg created the film Gremlins, featuring a creature called a mogwai, named Gizmo, who was actually quite sweet unless you got him wet or fed him after midnight.

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A gizmo can also be an object that doesn’t work in coordination with other parts. It may be an inventive or clever toy or a small feat of engineering. Technically, the term could be used to describe a cell phone, a mini remote control race car, an electronic bubble blower, or another similar device. In fact, virtually all infomercial electronic devices would fall under this heading.

The term can also be used to suggest that something is kind of neat or fascinating. It applies to a huge range of products, and just about anything battery or solar powered and handheld could be a gizmo. Of course, such devices could also be called thingies, gadgets, or another word. What term a person uses depends on which one the mind hits upon first. More often, the gizmo is the nondescript working part of machinery that the speaker doesn't understand, and while many individuals may not understand these parts, the world is full of them.

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Discuss this Article

SarahSon
Post 7

When I don't know quite what to call something I refer to it as a 'thingamabob'. Even though I don't think this is an official word, everyone knows what I am talking about. I was recently in a store where they sold a lot of products you see advertised on TV. It was interesting to actually see what the product looked like in person instead of just listening to all the testimonials of how well it works.

myharley
Post 6

@sunshined -- I don't think you are alone there. That is why they keep having infomercials because people keep buying the products! I got to the point where I won't even start watching them anymore so I am not tempted to order anything.

The most recent gizmo I was interested in was something where you could make your own soda at home. I thought this would save me money on buying it at the store. Before I ordered it I realized I would have to keep syrup on hand, and realized it would just be a lot easier to keep buying it at the store instead of another gadget taking up space on my kitchen counter.

sunshined
Post 5

I am a sucker for just about any kind of gizmo sold on an infomercial. By the end of the show I feel like it is something I just have to have and the payments are so affordable! I have drawers and cupboards full of gizmos that I rarely use. I may use it for a time or two but quickly realize it didn't accomplish quite what I was hoping it would. I really need to just get rid of them so I have more space, but I keep thinking I will use them someday.

Perdido
Post 4

@lighth0se33 – I like “gizmo” better than “gadget” or “whatchamacallit.” It just has a fun sound to it.

I have one of those blenders mentioned in the article, and I call it my gizmo blender. I don't really understand how it works, but it is really loud and violent and it gets the job done quickly. I practically need to wear earmuffs while using it, but it can whip up a strawberry milkshake in just a minute.

lighth0se33
Post 3

I know nothing about cars, so it is hard for me to describe what is going wrong when I have to take mine in for repairs. I don't even know the terms for all the things on the dashboard, and I know that the repairman must think I'm so silly when I say, “The gizmo isn't working.”

I like the word gizmo better than thingamajig. It has fewer syllables, and it just rolls off the tongue easier. It's my go-to word for describing things I know nothing about.

Oceana
Post 2

The Gizmo gremlin always used to scare me! That movie came out when I was a child, and I would have nightmares about his transformation.

wavy58
Post 1

Most of my friends have what I refer to as gizmo phones. The ones that are touch screen and have all sorts of apps and functions are gizmos to me.

I still have a regular push button phone. Touch screen ones just don't respond to my fingers for some reason. I think this is because they can tell I'm technologically impaired.

I've tried using gizmo phones before, and I can't usually get any further than the display screen. I hope that button phones will always be available.

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