Thursday, November 19, 2020

What the dickens...

 I was reading a book review this morning in the Washington Post and came across this word - gradgrindian. If you click the link you'll see the meaning. Or I can make it easy for you and tell you - it means: "Having a soulless devotion to facts and figures; inflexibly utilitarian". It derives from  Thomas Gradgrind, a fictional character, the proprietor of an experimental school where only facts are taught, in Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times. 

Now I have never read Hard Times, indeed I have read only one of Charles Dicken's books - Oliver Twist and yet I have knowledge of many of his characters through cultural osmosis - many of his characters names have become eponymous - as a miserly person being called a scrooge (after Ebenezer Scrooge). 

Okay, more information than you want, or care about? Yeah, I get that. 

As for the title of this post? It has nothing at all to do with Charles Dickens - oho. I was going to do a long post about Dickens' characters and how their names have become part of the language but as traits rather than people (See Scrooge above).  I thought it would be a cute title. 

My natural curiosity and admitted lack of knowledge led me to Google the phrase and guess what - nothing at all to do with Charles Dickens. Some sources say it is a euphemism for the devil, other say not. Some say it was first used by Shakespeare, some say Thomas Heywood (they were contemporaries). Some say this, and some say that but it hardly matters, does it? We all know what it means as we use it - "What the hell" "What the devil" or as the OED states ...“the dickens!” is “an interjectional exclamation expressing astonishment, impatience, irritation, etc.; usually with interrogative words, as what, where, how, why, etc.”

Here endeth today's lesson.

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As an aside: 'Here endeth today's lesson' is a church thing. Which makes me think of that rather bad joke we had as kids when referring to Catholic churches as "Our Lady of Perpetual Motion" which makes me think that if I had my own church perhaps it would be called "Grace's Church of Perpetual Curiosity" or "The Church of Grace's Brain in Perpetual Motion" I'm only just a little bit crazy, yeah? 

8 comments:


  1. What? No "Tale of Two Cities"?

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    1. No - it was assigned reading in high school I do believe, and I vaguely remember reading the first few pages but I also vaguely remember reading either the Classic Comics version or the other "cheat' series of pamphlets, whose name escapes me and now I shall have to go digging to find out what they were called LOL

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    2. Cliffs Notes!

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  2. Dickens can be hard reading, but his character names are pure gold.

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    1. I don't think he is hard so much as boring to me but many of his books were written to be serials so dragging out the story was to his financial advantage as well as being a popular format. Indeed his character's names were well chosen and have passed into the vernacular but were far more humorous to the people of the times - Found this article - https://lithub.com/10-dickensian-character-names-deciphered. The etymology of words is fascinating, how meanings have changed to suit the times.

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    2. How interesting!

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  3. I feel smarter already, thank you

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    1. I find words, in and of themselves, fascinating. When I was introduced to the OED in college I swore one day I would own the volumes. Never got around to it but I'd sit in the library and just browse through it. I almost bought myself the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), an endlessly fascinating read. I could never justify the cost of these books, I wish I had. Nowadays I don't buy anything that would be useful in the long term because I won't live long enough. Kinda silly thinking but there you are. When something is wanted, you can't afford it, when you can finally afford it, it isn't really practical anymore.

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