'Pass me the…'

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
June 21, 2012, 10:54 AM GMT+0

What do you call it? We ask Britons their names for the thing that changes television channels

You're watching TV. You need that thing that changes channels, you know, the...the…actually, what do you call it?

We asked the British public about their names for this most useful of – and clearly, often asked-after ‒ devices.

  • 78% simply call the device the 'remote'
  • 9% call it the 'zapper'
  • 8% say it's a 'hoofer' or the 'hoofer doofer'
  • 5% call it 'buttons'
  • 4% say it is the 'changer'
  • 2% refer to it as the 'flicker' while another 2% call it the 'clicker' or the 'box'
  • 1% calls it the 'fat controller' in a jest most probably in reference to the Fat Controller in children's television programme Thomas the Tank Engine
  • Another 1% say 'gismo'
  • 8% of people have another name for the remote control that wasn't listed in this poll

'Podger' and 'melly'?

While 'remote control' wins out, it's clear that this isn't the end of the channel-changing story. A 2008 search by The English Project, dubbed 'Kitchen Table Lingo' found a whole host of other names English-speakers deploy to describe the piece of kit, citing 'doobly', 'podger', 'blipper', 'twitcher' and 'melly'.

Spurred on by this, Guardian writer Tim Dowling also highlighted the debate, commenting on some of the more popular terms and asking whether there is a limit to the number of times you can say 'remote'. "My mother used to call it 'the clicker'," he explains, "Although that was back when they actually did click."

Initial inventions

It seems that viewers demanded remote controls almost as soon as they started watching television.

The very first consumer-available model entered the American market in the mid-fifties ‒ not long after television ownership began to increase ‒ although the gadget's thick connecting cable meant it wasn't strictly 'remote', and put an undeniable tripping hazard in front of the box.

And while American Eugene Polley is credited as the official inventor of the ubiquitous tool ‒ his 1956 device, the Flash-Matic, was the first truly wireless control ‒ Dr Robert Adler later overhauled the concept by releasing the loftily-named 'Space Command', which used ultrasound waves. This technology reportedly continued to be used in television controls until it was replaced by infrared in the early 1980s.

It's difficult to remember that such a ubiquitous piece of kit – which, if the huge array of affectionate and varied names is anything to go by, we've taken to heart ‒ is actually a fairly recent gadget. Despite the 'vintage' character of his invention, which seems a million miles away from today's supersized do-all versions, Eugene Polley only died this year – on 22nd May at the age of 96.

See the survey details and full results here