Tuesday 5 December 2017

Dickens Explained in Clapham

Image result for dickensAnybody who's read The Merry Wives of Windsor (written in about 1598) will have been surprised to see a reference in it to Charles Dickens (born 1812). It's in Act II scene 2 and goes like this:

I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my
husband had him of. What do you call your knight's
name, sirrah?

Sir John Falstaff.

The reason for this is feat of anachronism is that the Dickens in what the dickens has nothing to do with the surname; it is, instead, a euphemism for the Devil. It may be that there was the Devil, and then there was a little devil or devilkins. Kin is common English diminutive as in lambkin or bunnykins or napkin (a nap used to be a tablecloth).

The diminutive kin is also the source of the English surname Dickens which is Little Richard (if you're into rock'n'roll) or Little Dick (if you're a puerile giggler, as I am). And the surname Dickens is the source of Charles Dickens and Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, which is the best Christmas story ever written, and there's an actor called Martin Prest who can recite the whole thing, and he's going to be doing so on Monday in Clapham at Bar Humbug, and I'm going to be interrupting him to explain the origins of Christmas Traditions and it ought to be a great show, so you should come along if you're in London.

More information and tickets and the like can be found by following this link. 

Meanwhile I'm doing a talk at Hungerford Books tomorrow (Wednesday 5th), and on Thursday Evening I shall be sitting in Waterstones Piccadilly with a pen ready to sign any and all books that are thrown at me*.

*In all seriousness, I was once doing a signing in Waterstones Piccadilly and a foreign gentleman came up to me, put a book in front of me, and asked me to sign it. I had a good look at it and explained to him that it wasn't my book. "No," he said. "You sign it."
"But I can't really sign it," I replied, "if I didn't write it."
"You are author, yes?"
"Well, yes, but not..."
"You sign it. It's for my daughter."
"But this is by..." I had a look, and the book didn't actually have an author, or not one who'd been prepared to put their name to it, which was surprising as it was a self-help book, and the cover said it was all about feeling "self-worth".
"It's for my daughter. You sign it."
He seemed irked by my recalcitrance, and so I gave in and I signed it E.L. James.
He seemed very happy.


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  2. It is said that surnames like Hob/Hobson, Dicken/Dickins were for children who didn't know their fathers. Hob etc. being names for the devil. Why didn't they blame an angel!?

  3. Excellent show tonight, really enjoyed it. Had I not known, I'd have had no idea you'd never done it as a double act before. Really nicely balanced between the two of you.

    1. Thanks. If we ever do it again, I shall insist on a heated building.