The Thingummy by Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum

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The Thingummy by Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum

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Category: Trivia
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: There is a word for the quite successful and entertainingly authoritative guide to the oddments of life we might not know the name for, and conversely the terms we can never quite define. That word is The Thingummy.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385614566

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Oh look, a trivia book. I don't think even I realised quite how many were published in the run up to every Christmas, but there are a lot. There is probably a name for the phenomenon.

There is a name for that bit between your nose and your lips – below your nasal septum comes the philtrum. There's a correct scientific name for the tummy-grumbling noises we make when things leave our stomach for lower down. Heck, there's even a scientific name for those circular grooves on top of a Frisbee.

However this book is not all about science – the attested aim to conquer the everyday ignorance of what is equally everyday is achieved, when the book turns to such obvious things as the caruncula, that we all have – and the rheum that collects there. On the other hand, the book also suitably defines other things we know the word of, to some extent at least – what exactly is worsted, for instance, and what do people mean when they use the term Dadaism?

The book does not consist of an awful lot of terms as such, but instead takes the opportunity each time to extemporise with other information. This means that under the Plough, about which we need to be told little, there is much appended knowledge that is worthwhile. We get into quite delightful trivia with the real history of the Frisbee, and facts such as those about Alexander Graham Bell – the family propensity for marrying deaf ladies, the fact that the US telephonic system had a minute's silence on his passing, and his family's work behind making National Geographic so much a staple of dentist waiting rooms (and untruthful masturbatory confessions of bad stand-up comics) are all more interesting than the cradle switch they feature under.

I didn't realise we were getting more contrails behind aeroplanes these days not just because of there being more flying around, but because their new, eco-friendly engines actually are better at producing them. I never knew I'd eaten lots of dragees in my life, being ignorant of what they are. While still on food, I wouldn't have known the connection between fondant cakes and chocolates, and the kazoo. And I now want to see some banana-plant fabrics.

The book wasn't a complete success, however. Why is the X-Box in here? I don't think many people needed the inclusion of the Allen key, even if our authors give it the high-faluting name of Allen wrench, and the instructions in bleeding a radiator may not be what we were intending to spend money on this season, although there's a further opportunity in Sartre's Sink.

There is more than one style of footwear, but when we get a token vintage picture of a shoe, right beneath the list of shoe parts, it's a wasted opportunity not to turn it into a fully labelled diagram, such as the much better ones regarding our interiors, horses' anatomy, architraves and so on. And the attempts at a pronunciation guide are worthwhile, but not complete – jabot I still wouldn't dare say in public for fear of getting it wrong.

I think in this and other areas the book could have been improved, or freshened up a little – there is a nice collection of pictures, but on the whole they do go to flesh out what is quite a short read. The style is highly authoritative, and I didn't find cause to correct any of what it was telling us, beyond the darts' double-top being a twenty (double 20, yes) but sometimes I found the approach lacking. The way trivia and details were hung from covering umbrellas – and the parts of the umbrella are here for us all – that might not have been particularly interesting, is not the biggest success.

It is a book that allows for worthwhile perusal and browsing while in the smallest room – and again, as it mentions this itself, the introduction shows the authors have succeeded with their aims. And it is worth flicking through – there are not only vibrissae here, but everything from the first CDs, a recipe for elderflower cordial, and the laugh I had when told what exactly a splat is. Elsewhere, however, with its flaws, and the fact one entry is in the cover artwork but not the book itself, I felt too many interrobangs were in order.

We would like to thank Doubleday for sending us a review copy.

For more whatjamacallits and answers to other questions you'd never thought to ask, there is also Do Polar Bears Get Lonely? by Mick O'Hare.

Buy The Thingummy by Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Thingummy by Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum at

Buy The Thingummy by Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Thingummy by Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum at


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