The Tongs.

A hilarious series of tweets by Nili‏ @sharknoises; since it’s short, I’ll just copy the whole thing, conveniently compiled by Alon, who sent it to me:

My entire life is a lie

I was just eating dinner with my parents and my mom asks in Farsi for me to pass her the remote control. I was like “…What?”

Mom: points to tongs [in Farsi] give me the remote control.
Me: ……You mean the tongs?
Mom: yeah, please pass it over.

After I pass it over I’m like “why did you call the tongs the [Persian word for remote control]?” & she just very nonchalantly blows my mind

Mom: [word] is just a filler word, you know. I couldn’t remember the word for tongs, so I said [word].
Me: ………….What. No. What?

For 28 years of my life, the word in Farsi that I thought meant remote control was actually just the Farsi equivalent of “thingamabob.” WTF. I just sat there, with my mouth hanging open, for a solid minute. My mom was like “wait… You thought that was the actual word for remote?”

Yes, mother!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I did think that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I learned Farsi from you and dad!! You guys call it that word!!!!!!!!!

Me: well what’s the actual word for remote control then?
Mom: um…. I don’t know? Says in English with a Persian accent “con-trol”?

And my mom is just like “why is this such a big deal?” Like she didn’t just shake the foundation of my entire world!!!! “Why is this such a big deal??” I learned Farsi from you guys!! How much of my knowledge of Farsi is just fake words that y’all made up?????

Me: so if I was at someone’s house and I ask where the [word] is, they’d just look at me like WTF are you talking about?
Mom: [laughs at me]

Me: what else can I not trust??? What else is fake???? Are y’all even my real parents????
Mom: [keeps laughing at me]
My life is a lie!!!!! I just will never know where the next blow will come from!!! Which of the words that I know are going to be the next fake one!! From now on I shall only communicate using interpretive dance

Thanks, Alon!


  1. Persian Wikipedia gives dur farman (“far command”) and kontrol az rah dur (“control from far away”), and states that there are many other terms for this device. Farman generally means control, mandate, or edict, and is also the Persian term for a steering wheel.

  2. David Marjanović says

    That fits – in my family we call it by the word that refers to political power and to the Force of Star Wars. Complete with “seizing power”.

  3. ….the remote control seems to have inspired the greatest flowering of invention. The English Project cites “doobly”, but there are an awful lot more, including “podger”, “blipper”, “twitcher” and “melly”. A friend of mine calls it the “ponker”. Someone in the Guardian office says “didge”. My mother used to call it “the clicker”, although that was back when they actually did click, and “controller” is our family term, with “fat controller” being a variant for the larger Freeview clicker, which is covered in packing tape because somebody – not me – lost the little door that holds the batteries in.

    According to web forums, “clicker” is extremely common, as is “flipper”, “changer” and the rather charming “the buttons”. “Zapper” is often used, while “Frank” (geddit?) is a by no means isolated derivative.

    There are expressions directly derived from “remote control” such as “the mote”, or “the trolls”. “Hoofer-doofer” sounds like an odd one-off, but lots of people seem to claim it and it leads the pack of similar words such as “doofla” and “do-flicky”. “Onner-offer” is apparently rare.

  4. Well, so how is thingamaboby in Persian?

  5. We call it the remote par excellence, although we have other remote controls such as the a/c remote control. However, people don’t usually ask for that; they just want the air turned on or off, preferably by someone else.

  6. Back before store-bought remotes were a thing, my ex-Marine Uncle Gene rigged up a wire with an on-off switch so he could mute the ads on the TV (an allergy I have inherited), and he called it “the blab-off,” a name I’ve always loved.

  7. Well, so how is thingamaboby in Persian?

    Someone asked her in a reply, “so what’s the word? chiz? shey? dastgah?” She wrote back, “no hahaha those are like… regularly used words! i would have figured it out from that! I’m fluent, i swear, hahah!! plus, none of those mean thingamabob!! no, the word is musmusak.”

  8. David Marjanović says

    The original, which can be seen all on one page here, is completely in all-caps; omitting them really does distract from the panic.

    Also: “Is there a Heritage Speaker Problems blog yet because this sounds like peak heritage speaker problems”.

    “Zapper” […] “Frank” (geddit?)

    Good to see that the spirit behind rhyming slang is still productive.

  9. Thank Y!

  10. Japanese is an exception to all this confusion. It calls it the リモコン rimokon. From リモートコントロール rimōto kontorōru, of course. You must admit that shamelessly borrowing the English and contracting the resulting unpronounceable monstrosity has paid off nicely.

    Chinese just calques the English as 遥控 yáokòng ‘distant control’.

    It’s a familiar everyday term. I don’t think anyone in these languages would call it the ‘thingamebob’.

  11. We didn’t have a TV in our house when I was a boy, but my Japanese grandparents did. They called the device in question ‘tacchonpa’, which I accepted as the Japanese word. Speakers closer to my age later told me they didn’t know the word, and that it should be ‘rimokon’ (shortened form of the Japanese form of remote control).

    I think that at some point I reasoned that tacchonpa must be something like a shortened version of ‘touch-on-panel’ or something like that, but 5 minutes ago I actually googled it for the first time. Apparently one of the first TV ads for the device featured a lady saying “Tacchi! On! Pa!” (Touch! On! Bam! or something like that), and tacchonpa as a name for the device was quite common.

  12. My father rigged a blab-off for our TV and I thought for a long time he had coined the word but have since learned it was the term in general use.

  13. Huh, I didn’t know that. Another illusion of uniqueness destroyed…

  14. What generation of immigrant are the parents of Nili‏ @sharknoises? I grew up in a community of 2nd/3rd generation families who maintained the language of the old country, and I can relate to this. All sorts of workaround weirdness, including words that would have been considered rural dialect being elevated to standard usage.

  15. Squiffy-Marie van 't Blad, Dutchman-at-large says

    In principle we could say “afstandbediening” but who has time to say “afstandbediening” I mostly say “thingy”[1] (“afstander” if I’m being slightly more formal).

    [1] Other Dutch people aren’t actually big codeswitchers, but I certainly am.

  16. David Marjanović says

    Fernbedienung “remote operation (device)”.

  17. Surely even German speakers would shorten Fernbedienung to something more manageable.

    FB, I suppose, would be a good choice given German love of abbreviations.

  18. @ David: And strangely I can’t think of a short or slang word for it in German. My wife often shortens it to Fern, but she’s not a native speaker of German and mostly does it when she speaks Russian (“Дай мне ферн”). The normal Russian is дистанционное управление (distanciónnoye upravlyéniye), short дистанционка (distanciónka).

  19. I am quite sure most Russians simply say “пульт” (‘pult’ – control panel).

  20. I am quite sure most Russians simply say “пульт” (‘pult’ – control panel).
    True, I somehow forgot about that one.

  21. It amuses me a little bit that English shortens “remote control” to “the remote” while Brazilian Portuguese shortens “controle remoto” to “o controle”.

  22. [ʁɶˈmod̤n̩].

  23. Marja Erwin says

    In light of David Marjanović’s comment, I’m tempted to call it the scepter.

  24. Trond Engen says

    Fjernkontroll, boringly.

  25. David Marjanović says

    Surely even German speakers would shorten Fernbedienung to something more manageable.

    Nope! I mean, the r is vocalized and the n fully assimilated, but all four syllables stay.

    German love of abbreviations

    German-speaking dictatures loved abbreviations. German-speaking democracies have a noticeable tendency to feel uneasy about them.

  26. I can’t see the OED from home. Is there actual evidence of “dictature” as an English word?

  27. Yes, going back to 1475. The early quotes in the OED refer to the Roman dictātūra.

  28. Wiktionary has a funny entry on “dictature”:
    dictature (plural dictatures)

    1. (obsolete) Office of a dictator; dictatorship.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Francis Bacon to this entry?)

  29. David Marjanović says

    Oh. Yeah, I mean “dictatorships”.

  30. danielsyrovy says

    Nope! I mean, the r is vocalized and the n fully assimilated, but all four syllables stay.

    seconded as to length, though in my family the word was “Fernsteuerung”

  31. Fjernkontroll

    Very apt for the people who invented trolls 🙂

  32. though in my family the word was “Fernsteuerung”
    Interesting, that’s the first time I see that word being used for the TV remote. Normally it’s being used for the remote controls of model planes / cars / boats etc.

  33. Fernsteuerung
    In Icelandic it’s almost the same: fjarstýring
    And the Greek words have the same far component:
    τηλεχειριστήριο / τηλεκοντρόλ,
    as do Finnish (kaukosäädin) and Estonian (kaugjuhtimispult).

  34. I think I’ll start calling it the tongs.

  35. And the Turkish uzaktan kumanda “command from afar” does not buck the trend, either.

  36. Die Macht

  37. Trond Engen says

    Fjernstyring is the remote control of a toy car or a drone also in Norwegian. It was well established at a time when TVs with remote control were only known from stories about the degenerate ways of Americans.

    When we got our first TV with remote control in the eighties, my 80-year-old grandmother called it knotten “the button”. I think we all did without any irony. We laughed when my mother called it kalkulatoren “the calculator”, though.

  38. Come to think of it, I’ve heard “the button” in English too, albeit not recently.

  39. “Doobly” seems to me to be a variant of “doobry”, which I’ve come across as yet another word for thingummy.

  40. January First-of-May says

    I am quite sure most Russians simply say “пульт” (‘pult’ – control panel).

    Definitely the case for me, and I can’t even think of another word for it – it had always been пульт.

  41. I lived in Russia at the time when only imported TVs had remote controls (and cost an equivalent of annual salary of Soviet citizen).

    I don’t really remember how it was called first. Perhaps simply переключатель (channel-changer), same as for TVs without remote.

  42. Russians simply say “пульт”
    It’s VERY old, but the remote TV switches in the 1960s weren’t anywhere similar to what we use today (even though they were officially called a “pul’t”). It was NOT wireless, but a control box attached to a TV set by a thick cable. Allowing you to flip through the channels, like all 2 of them, right from the couch.

    We wouldn’t have imagined that a wireless remote is “the same thing called by the same word”, so depending on how hard pressed we’d be to “speak real Russian”, the thing would be either a РЕМОУТ or УПРАВЛЯЛКА

  43. The first TV with a remote I ever saw was in a rented summer house in 1968. It was wireless, but worked by high-frequency (but audible) sound. I suspect there were tiny hammers inside that struck a bar, as the buttons required a fair amount of mechanical force to press, and it sort of sounded like an extremely soprano glockenspiel. There were four buttons, each with its own pitch, for “on/off”, “channel up”, “channel down”, and “mute”. If you wanted to change the volume otherwise, or fiddle with the picture, you had to get up and walk. (TVs in those days had controls called “vertical hold” and “horizontal hold” which if mis-set would cause the picture to drift up or across the screen, wrapping around to the other side, in addition to brightness and contrast.)

  44. David Marjanović says

    worked by high-frequency (but audible) sound

    I didn’t know this had ever been tried – for anything really!

  45. That claims to be an ultrasound device. Maybe it was, and I was hearing a low subharmonic. I wonder if I could hear it today.

    David: The patent says that such devices had been tried many times, but had failed commercially because they had used amplitude rather than frequency to communicate the command. Of course, how loud a device is depends on how far away from the base it is, so that’s not surprising.

  46. Someone asked her in a reply, “so what’s the word? chiz? shey? dastgah?” She wrote back, “no hahaha those are like… regularly used words! i would have figured it out from that! I’m fluent, i swear, hahah!! plus, none of those mean thingamabob!! no, the word is musmusak.”

    There’s a bit more followup on the original thread:


    Ah ‌‌maasmaasak. Interesting that they pronounce the alef as a vav. Is that a dialectical difference I wonder? Anyway, feylan.


    honestly, it is pronounced with an alef, but i don’t like the way maasmaasak looks, so i just spell it as musmusak. similar enough noise that you can still tell how it’s pronounced. fingileesi writing is bullshit anyway, everyone has their own rules.

    Since that gave me something I could Google:

    ماسماسک =maasmaasak
    دوستان لطفا تو ترجمش کمکم کنین.
    maasmaasak refer to a thing that you can’t remeber it’s name.specially when you are hurry and you don’t have much time to explaine how it is shaped and it’s other features. it’s common in friendly conversations and we don’t use it in tv ,newspaper, websites or… .
    for example:
    imagine i’m in a room then you come in while you carry a speak with me and put the punch over the table.then after a few times you leave the room without the punch. but immediately you come back and ask me “Hadi, didn’t you see the maasmaasak that i was carrying it?”
    “هادی، این ماسماسکی که دستم بود (داشتم میبردم ) رو ندیدی؟”

    or maybe you say ” Hadi, please give me that (or my) maasmaasak. ”
    “هادی، لطفا اون ماسماسکه (همون ماسماسکمو) بده بهم ”

    The forum thread it’s from is titled: Persian words with no English equivalent.

  47. Thanks, that’s great added information!

  48. Persian words with no English equivalent.

    Hoodang. “Hand me the hoodang, Hooshang.”

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