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? 

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