What The Charles Dickens?

As I sit here with my kids watching the original 1966 Batman movie, a character mentions Charles Dickens.  This makes me wonder whether there will be any Shakespeare references, which makes me remember that Shakespeare is credited with first use of the term “what the dickens.” Then it dawns on me … is there a connection there?  What came first, the family or the expression? The House of Names website tells me that Dickens as a family name dates back to Norman origins from 1066. I have to admit, I’m curious.  That would suggest that Dickens as a surname was plenty common during the time Shakespeare wrote “I can not tell what the dickens his name is” (Merry Wives, by the way). So, what’s the joke?

One thought on “What The Charles Dickens?

  1. Two things:

    1. The OED is a bit stumped on the etymology of this word–which they cite as a euphemism for the Devil. Here's what they say:

    [App. substituted for ‘devil’, as having the same initial sound. It has been suggested to be worn down from devilkin or deilkin, but no evidence of this has been found. Dickin or Dickon, dim. of Dick (cf. Wilkin, Watkin, Jankin or Jenkin, Simkin) was in use long before the earliest known instance of this, and Dickens as a surname was probably also already in existence.]

    2. Charles Dickens is purported to have said "What the Shakespeare?" whenever he was perplexed:


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