This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Dickens improved our vocabulary
Among writers quoted in the current edition of the OED, Dickens is behind only Shakespeare, Scott, Chaucer, Milton, and Dryden for total number of citations (9,218). No one in the past two centuries comes close. Here are some of his key contributions to the lexicon or vocabulary of English. 1.
For many of these citations Dickens did not invent the word or phrase but provides the first widely published usage. Dustbin was in existence before 'Dombey and Son' and boredom precedes Bleak House - but without these novels they may not have come into common usage.
Dickens was also one of the first writers to employ popular slang. His first novel The Pickwick Papers (1837) introduced butter-fingers ("a clumsy person"), flummox ("bewilder"). In modern British English they are what might be termed polite slang terms ('I was flummoxed by that question in the exam').
Neologisms (New Words)
Another feature of Dickens use of language is the invention of words - most of these purely manufactured neologisms have not survived - thankfully comfoozled ("exhausted") never caught on. He had much more lasting success in converting adjectives to nouns: messy to messiness, for example.
Linguistically this was where - not to put to fine a point on it (Mr Snagsby in Bleak House) - Dickens displays his genius. The phrase 'I've got his number' (meaning I understand how he's trying to fool us) has a very contemporary feel but again we can trace it back to the interminable legal machinations in Bleak House.
No novelist has been more inventive in this area. Dickens used names to evoke character: Scrooge, Mr Micawber, Uriah Heep, Oliver Twist, Fagin, Pecksniff and many more names still resonate in the language
Kieran McGovern wrote ‘Love by Design’ (Macmillan) and is 'amongst the best writers of language learner materials in English’. He edits ESL Reading and ESOL eBooks, which publishes low-cost readers and course materials. He also posts regularly the OUP ELT Global Blog, English Language FAQ , the BBC World Service & the Macmillan Dictionary Blog.
Read more on how Dickens an language here: Dickens & English
Six things Dickens gave the world - BBC resource for reading & writing activities