Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Where does the phrase "Scare the Dickens out of..." originate from? And does it refer to Charles Dickens?

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

This is one of several phrases using dickens as a euphemism for devil such as what the dickens, where the dickens, the dickens you are, etc. Since its use can be traced back to Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, it has nothing to do with Charles Dickens. Though, according to Michael Quinion at WWW:

it does seem to have been borrowed from the English surname, most likely sometime in the sixteenth century or before. (The surname itself probably derives from Dickin or Dickon, familiar diminutive forms of Dick.)

However, when looking for this clip from the play:

clip from The Merry Wives of Windsor

I found this footnote with an alternate theory:

http://books.google.com/books?id=FU2U2eXY5JoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+merry+wives+of+windsor&hl=en&ei=GjgOTvWsLYLX0QHLgvHADg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=dickens&f=false

share|improve this answer
    
Nice answer and congrats on your 10K! –  KitFox Jul 2 '11 at 0:07
1  
@Kit: Thanks. At least I accomplished something today. –  Callithumpian Jul 2 '11 at 0:14

According to Etymonline, it is an

exclamation, 1590s, apparently a substitute for devil; probably altered from Dickon, nickname for Richard and source of the surnames Dickens and Dickenson, but exact derivation and meaning are unknown.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.