Like the Dickens Meaning
Definition: A lot; very much.
This phrase is used as a general intensifier. Some common collocations are hurts like the dickens, run like the dickens, work like the dickens, miss you like the dickens, etc.
Origin of Like the Dickens
Believe it or not, this phrase actually has nothing to do with Charles Dickens, the famous English writer.
Dickens is a substitute for the word devil. Some people try to avoid saying the word devil for religious reasons.
One of the most common phrases using like the dickens is to say that something hurt like the dickens. For example, that hurt like the dickens. Other synonymous expressions that religious people might avoid include that hurt like the devil or that hurt like hell.
Dickens first appeared in the English playwright William Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, from the year 1600.
Examples of Like the Dickens
In this dialogue, a brother and sister are discussing a surprising discovery.
Maria: What’s the matter? Why were you screaming upstairs?
Franco: I was up in the attic looking for some old clothes when I heard a strange sound. After a moment, I realized it was a raccoon!
Maria: Oh my goodness!
Franco: It scared the dickens out of me.
Maria: I bet you ran like the dickens as well.
Franco: I did!
The second example shows two university students who are complaining about the antics of their school’s president.
Lorenzo: Our school president is still lying about his involvement in that scandal. I wish he would just admit what he did wrong. Everyone knows he’s lying, and it’s just making him look ridiculous.
Alba: Yeah, I know. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s capable of telling the truth. He lies like the dickens every chance he gets.
The excerpt below is about a historical drama. On the show, the characters who are part of British nobility must become more modern or fight to keep their culture more traditional.
- But now that the Labor Party has moved in and the aristocracy is slowly crumbling, the manicured upstairs lot must make a choice: join the changing times or fight like the dickens. –USA Today
This example is a book excerpt that a newspaper featured in their Lifestyle section. It uses the expression to emphasize how strong the rain was.
- The weather’s been so strange lately. For three days, it rained like the dickens—a cold rain it was, just this side of snow. But the day after the dam broke, it got sunny and warm and it’s been that way since. –USA Today
Grammar and Usage
Although this expression has the meaning of a lot, like the dickens acts as an intensifier, not merely an amount of something. Therefore, don’t use it when you could use a lot of.
Correct: She ran like the dickens. (Here it describes how she ran as fast as she could.)
Incorrect: She has like the dickens apple. (Some people might think this means She has a lot of apples, but we cannot use the expression in this way. This sounds like nonsense.)
The idiom like the dickens is an intensifier that means to a great degree.