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what the dickens

Interactive quiz: Dickens or what the dickens?

2012 sees the bicentenary of one of the great and prolific authors of the English literary canon – Charles Dickens. His contribution to literature speaks for itself, but his contribution to the English language is also significant. In particular, the names of some of his characters have entered the language as words in their own right. We now talk of a miserly person as a Scrooge (from A Christmas Carol), a Dolly Varden (from a character in Barnaby Rudge) is a type of women’s hat, and Pecksniffian (from Mr Pecksniff, a character in Martin Chuzzlewit) means pretending to have high morals. But it wasn’t just in his character names that Dickens was creative.

The Oxford English Dictionary, as a historical dictionary, aims to give the earliest example of a word in English, and then show its subsequent development through illustrative quotations and uses many quotations from Dickens in doing so. In fact to date there are 9,218 Dickens quotations in the OED, making him the 13th most quoted source (just marginally ahead of William Caxton). Take our interactive quiz to see if you can tell which words have their first quotation from a work by Charles Dickens, and which make you cry What the dickens?

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