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A Common Nomenclature for Lego Families

Thousands of different Lego exist, yet when your seven-year-old asks for “a clippy bit,” you know exactly what to hand him. From 2009, a breakdown of the atoms of a Lego universe.

A selection of various Lego bricks

Catch us on a rainy weekend afternoon, and you’ll probably find my son and me busy spreading Lego over the living room floor. It’s easier to see it that way.

Typically, we will build spaceships. I’ll commence work on a solid chassis on which to hang all the fancy bits—the wings, superfluous for space flight but essential for seven-year-olds—and the greebles that make everything look, you know, more spaceship-y. My son will cast around for people-bits, with which to fabricate a spaceship pilot and perhaps a co-pilot. They will all need light sabers, of course. And control panels that move.

So each of us has a clear idea of which pieces we’re after, and two enormous plastic crates full of Lego from which to extract them.

It’s a scene that is replayed by kids and parents everywhere. And it’s the starting point for a unique quirk of language: Lego nomenclature.

Every family, it seems, has its own set of words for describing particular Lego pieces. No one uses the official names. “Dad, please could you pass me that Brick 2x2?” No. In our house, it’ll always be: “Dad, please could you pass me that four-er?”

And I’ll pass it, because I know exactly which piece he means. Lego nomenclature is essential for family Lego building.

“Dad, I’m building a roof for the medical pod, but I need a hinge-y bit to make it open up. You know, one of those four-er flat hinge-y bits.”

Raimi often builds spaceships but has never referred to the pieces by name, until prompted by his father—at which point he reveals that he possesses names for all of them in his head.

Yes I do know. I’ll keep my eye out for one, I say. And do you want this flat groovy piece to go on the top there, behind your lasers?

“Oh, thanks Dad.”

Then, when another seven-year-old came round for tea after school one day, I overheard the two of them, busy in the spaceship construction yard that used to be our living room, get into a linguistic thicket.

“Can you see any clippy bits?” my son asked his friend. The friend was flummoxed. “Do you mean handy bits?” he asked, pointing.

“Yes,” replied my boy. “Clippy bits.”

Of course! This language of Lego isn’t just something our family has invented; every Lego-building family must have its own vocabulary. And the words they use (mostly invented by the children, not the adults) are likely to be different every time. But how different? And what sort of words?

Hence, a survey. I asked fellow parents to donate their children for a few minutes, and name a selection of Lego pieces culled from the Lego parts store.

Our small, international cast (half Brits, half Americans) is made up of four children. First, my seven-year-old son Barney, who surveyed the list as if it was another piece of homework. His friend, Jem, also seven, went through the list and then wanted to do it again. Five-and-a-half-year-old Max didn’t hesitate to name every piece. Six-year-old Raimi often builds spaceships, but has never referred to the pieces by name, until prompted by his father—at which point he revealed that he possessed names for all of them in his head.

So that’s how we discovered that a “cylinder one-er” can also be known as “Coke bottles” or a “golden wiper.” Or that an “upper” is also a “bow” or a “cannon,” or a “four-studded upward slope.” And that a “light saber” is a “light saber” no matter where you live or how much Lego you have.

And most of the time it, it all works fine. Within families, the communication is clear, and a clippy bit is most clearly a clippy bit. Even if there are three different kinds of clippy bit in one model, we’ll know exactly which one we’re all talking about at the time. Lego, like language, benefits from context.

A Common Nomenclature for Lego Families


Lego Piece Barney Raimi Max Jem
A bent four-er Ladder without steps, because it’s like air vents Silver ramp Six-studded clippy piece
Round flat one-er Rounds, because they’re round The bronze jewel Stud
A flat clippy piece Claws Golden snapper Clippy piece
A two-er with only one bobble Eye Gold board A two-pieced one stud
A flat clippy bit Claws Blue snapper Hand piece
A rectangular one-er One-piece Redder One-brick piece
Flat square one-er Squares A green stander Squared stud
Cylinder one-er Coke bottles Golder wiper Round one-brick
A joining bit Eye Blue tunnel One-sided clippy bit
Spinny bit Fan Target Spinny piece
Flat one-er with no bobble Gold, because they look like gold Flatpot One-stud flat piece
Flat clippy piece Rollers Silver roller Car mirror piece
Groovy bit Air vents Jail snail Grill piece
T-shaped joiney thing T-space Small ships—they have wings, you know Three-poled piece
Light saber handle Light saber—we have them Light saber Gray light saber handle
The piece that goes on top of the spinny piece to make it spin Burger bottom, because I have SpongeBob Legos and those were the bottoms of the crabby patties Surrounder Spinny piece that goes on the square bit
An upper piece Bow—that’s what they call the front of a boat The cannon Four-studded upward slope
Two-er hole-y bit Connectors Double cannon Two-studded slotty piece
Lego crystal Gems The jaguar’s jewel Diamond piece, yellow
Four-er Four-dot square Lego piece Four-studded brick
Microphone Hose two, because we have a different hose The gun Blaster piece
Upper piece Mountain ledge The slide One-studded thin slopey piece
Three-er Rectangle The blocker Three-studded thin piece
Light saber blade Other light saber part Saber stick Pink light saber blade
A piece you clip wheels on Wheel connector Twister Small wheel axle
Wing piece Wing The ground Aeroplane wing piece
Fire piece Flame Fire coral Fire piece
L-shape Slug, because it looks like a slug The seat Four-studded book piece
Six-er Six-piece rectangle Blue stander Six-studded piece
Wing piece Tail rudder The sword Aeroplane tail piece
Control set Computer; I have the same piece The control Aeroplane control panel
An attach-any-side piece Fire hydrant Four blaster Five-studded single piece
A piece that you can clip something on the side One-hole fire hydrant First cannon Two-studded side piece

biopic

TMN Contributing Writer Giles Turnbull finds it hard to write a meaningful bio, despite being a professional writer for some 15 years now. That’s horrifying. It’s frightening. You can visit him online at gilest.org. More by Giles Turnbull