The original meaning of the British-English noun oojamaflip is: a type of collapsible trolley designed for use in the home.
The noun oojamaflip (also oojimaflip, etc.) came to also denote a thing (or, less commonly, a person) whose name the speaker cannot remember, does not know, or does not wish to mention.
The U.S. author, columnist, journalist and presidential speechwriter William Safire (William Lewis Safir – 1929-2009) mentioned the latter signification of the noun oojamaflip in his column On Language, published in The New York Times (New York City, New York, USA) of Sunday 9th January 2005—the following is about “the creative world of “tongue-tippers,” terms used in place of words on the tip of the speaker’s tongue but just beyond linguistic reach”:
British English also has its words for the unremembered objects. In 1962, The Sunday Times explained that “‘ujah’ . . . was used as widely and as indiscriminately as ‘gimmick’ and ‘gadget’ are used now.” It was usually spelled oojah and was thought to be of Hindustani origin. The Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang has its updated version: oojamaflip.
With interpretation of the first syllable as the pronoun who, the variant Who-ja-ma-flip is used in the generic name for an Arab prince in the column Just Julian, by the Northern-Irish broadcaster Julian Simmons (born 1952), published in Sunday Life (Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland) of Sunday 14th April 2002:
Air Canada handled a major, prestigious airline from the Middle East, aboard which, it seemed, every other passenger was a queen, an ex-queen, a prince, a princess, or a head of state.
“You see,” said a colleague to me, when I first started work at Heathrow, “It’s good experience, having to deal with their Tom, Dick, and Harry royals, because it helps to prepare you for dealing with your own, proper Royal Family.”
And, indeed, I found that all to be true, although I am here to tell you that there was one hell of a difference between dealing with Prince Ahmed Ben Who-ja-ma-flip, en route to the Gulf States, and the late Princess Margaret, heading off to her Caribbean retreat of Mustique!
The noun oojamaflip is perhaps from:
– the noun oojah, denoting a thing whose name the speaker cannot remember, does not know, or does not wish to mention;
– the element -ma-, perhaps after nouns such as thingamabob and whatchamacallit, which denote a thing whose name the speaker cannot remember, does not know, or does not wish to mention;
– the verb flip, perhaps originally with reference to the folding action of the above-mentioned type of collapsible trolley.
The earliest occurrence that I have found of the noun oojamaflip denoting a type of collapsible trolley designed for use in the home is from the following paragraph, by Elizabeth Williamson, published in the Sunday Mirror (London, England) of Monday 30th March 1969:
What’s an Oojamaflip?
. . . it’s a lightweight metal trolley with two plastic trays which folds away flat. Fitted with Orbit castors it costs about £4 17s. 6d. In orange, turquoise, grey and curry, by Staples.
The following advertisement was published in the Kensington Post (London, England) of Friday 18th April 1969:
a dolly of a trolley
Meet the neatest, lightest little trolley in the world. It’s made by STAPLES.
Made to carry everything you would need three hands for. And designed to fold flat in a trice.
Use it for meals and snacks; picnics; at parties for drinks; in the nursery or in the garden.
Folded, it packs away in the smallest area—with a flick of the wrist it’s back in action.
Suggested retail price $4.17.6.
In a range of attractive colours.
JOHN & WILLIAM PERRING
190 High Street, W8
The earliest occurrences that I have found of the noun oojamaflip, and variants, denoting a thing whose name the speaker cannot remember, does not know, or does not wish to mention, are as follows, in chronological order:
1-: From A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1970), by the British film critic Raymond Durgnat (1932-2002):
Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit is a prestidigitious jingle-jumble of iconographies, from Goonish to Gothic, by way of empire-builders’ emblems, admen’s knick-knacks, cultural doodads and assorted oojamaflips. It weaves a pixilated and reciprocally destructive choreography from the diverse and irreconcilable notions that obfuscate our insights, titillate our palates, manipulate our loyalties and masquerade as satisfactions.
2-: From Where there’s a wile there’s a woman, by Penny Perrick, published in The Times (London, England) of Monday 6th October 1986—the following is about The International Businesswoman: A Guide to Success in the Global Marketplace (New York: Praeger, 1986), by Marlene L. Rossman:
These days, sexual harassment is on the decline although, should you require some, Ms Rossmann [sic] advises against encounters with clients, colleagues and men in bars. Instead, she suggests using your business card as an instrument of advanced flirtation. “If you meet an interesting man, you can offer your card and ask for his.”
This seems bold behaviour to me but, apparently, it doesn’t get you into nearly as much trouble as looking someone straight in the eye in the Arab world or Japan. Imagine having to say “It’s a deal then; two million oojimaflips for delivery next October”, while modestly casting your eyes down towards your toecaps.
3-: From the column Friday at last, by Kurt Calder, published in the Lichfield Mercury (Lichfield, Staffordshire, England) of Friday 4th March 1988:
I’M taking a thoroughly undeserved holiday for the next few weeks and look forward to returning bright-tailed and bushy-eyed in the not too distant future. There’s a whole bunch of oojimaflips I’ve not managed to include in this week’s column including all kinds of memories and recollections of old Lichfield.
I’ll include these when I return from chasing the sun, just to prove that nostalgia is not a thing of the past…