Top 10 Dickensian Words

dickens1There are many characters found throughout English literature who become so closely associated with a certain trait, or traits, that their own name becomes synonymous with that trait.  As you might expect, there’s a word for this:  eponym, which is a literary character whose name conveys a quality associated with the character.  Perhaps no other author has better distinguished himself with this ability than Charles Dickens.  Mr. Dickens created characters that are known even by those who have never picked up a Dickens novel.  He had a talent for encapsulating an exaggerated personality trait into a single individual in a way that was both memorable and endearing, even if the character him- or herself wasn’t so endearing.  Today’s list is a top ten compilation of words that have made their way into the English language that are taken directly from Dickens’ characters.

1. Scrooge n. a selfish miser with a difficult, cantankerous personality; taken from Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

2. Fagin n. a villain who corrupts young children into a life of crime; from the character of the same name in Oliver Twist.

3. Pickwickian adj. 1. something that is unusually strange or odd; whimsical.  2. simple and kind.  3. of words or ideas, understood or interpreted in a manner that is different or peculiar from what is typical; from the character, Mr. Pickwick, in The Pickwick Papers.

4. Uriah Heap n. a person who is cruel, malicious, and hypocritically insincere; from the character of the same name in David Copperfield.

5. Gradgrind n. a cold and heartless person who is only interested in facts; from the character, Mr. Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times.

6. Micawber n. a person who is hopefully, and often naively, optimistic; from Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield.

7. Chadband n. a smug, pious hypocrit, from the character in Bleak House of the same name.

8. Pecksniffian adj. hypocritically and unctuously benevolent; sanctimonious; from the character, Seth Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit. Also, Pecksniffish.

9. gamp n. British term for a large umbrella; from the character, Mrs. Sarah Gamp, in Martin Chuzzlewit, who invariably carried an umbrella wherever she went.

10. Podsnap n. from Our Mutual Friend, a person having an attitude marked by complacency and the willful ignoring of unpleasant facts.


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  5. #5 by D West on March 12, 2011 - 11:55 am

    Trying to think of a Dickensian type word meaning “eat” or consume. I think it starts with a “C’ something like “conmesserate” maybe??? Thanks! please comment via e-mail.

    • #6 by thewordmaven on March 17, 2011 - 9:52 am

      I can’t think of any Dickens characters that came to symbolize eating or consuming. However, I do have a few obscure words that mean to eat or consume.

      fress – to snack in excessive quantities – what might be termed: to pig out.

      gormandize – to eat in an excessive manner – pretty much the same as fress.

      gulch – to eat in a noisy fashion – sounds a lot like my kids when they were younger.

      guttle – to eat greedily; to wolf down – I see a trend emerging here.

      ingurgitate – to eat or drink greedily or in a large quantity.

      manducate – to chew one’s food.

      niffle – to eat in a hurried manner.

      piece – to eat between regular meals – what I’ll be doing this weekend while watching March Madness.

      scoff – to eat in a greedy manner – yet another word for this action.

      stech – to overfill one’s stomach with food (see piece above).

      stodge – means the same as stech.

      tiffin (or just tiff) – a British term meaning to serve or eat a meal.

      victual – typically used as a noun, it can also be a verb meaning to eat or feed and can also be spelled as vittle.

      murder – here’s a great term for consuming something greedily and with relish.

      raven – another great term meaning to devour with relish; probably from the way a raven is noted for eating just about anything available.

      Hope this gives you a few new words to add to your vocabulary.

      -The Word Maven

  6. #7 by D West on March 12, 2011 - 11:54 am

    Trying to think of a Dickensian type word meaning “eat” or consume. I think it starts with a “C’ something like “conmesserate” maybe??? Thanks!

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