Charles Dickens: Word Inventor

Happy Boxing Day! While Charles Dickens first used the term in The Pickwick Papers, the OED lists its first mention four years earlier in 1833. A kind of Christmas bonus the day after the big event, is how it’s usually framed, when lords of the manor would present servants and employees who worked the actual holiday with ‘boxes’ of goodies and treats, and hopefully, a few coins. Leave it to Dickens to make good use of a unique term.

Writers love words, so when I came across this list of words Charles Dickens invented, I decided to pass them on to you on this Boxing Day as an extra present for all the wordsmiths out there.

Dickens was known to seek out unusual and lesser-known words. Here are a few he invented that show us how he used the English language.

Comfoozled: Not one I’ve ever personally used, Dickens invented this word for The Pickwick Papers, to mean exhausted or overcome by an emotion: “He’s in a horrid state o’love; regularly comfoozled and done over with it.”

Jog-trotty: Dickens transformed the noun “jog-trot” into an adjective meaning boring. In Bleak House he wrote: “It’s rather jog-grotty and humdrum.”

Messiness: Going the other way, Dickens turned and adjective into a noun. He is believed to prefer this way of coining new words, such as “cheesiness,” “seediness,” and “fluffiness.”

Sassigassity: Used by Dickens only once in 1850’s A Christmas Tree, it referred to a dog who had “audacity with attitude” and is probably the one most in use today.

Sawbones: One I’ve actually heard before, Dickens used it in The Pickwick Papers to refer to a surgeon. It’s still listed in some dictionaries as a slang term for a doctor or surgeon.

Whizz-bang: Dickens used this word to describe the sound of a gunshot, but it’s been co-opted in modern lexicon to refer to a resounding success.

I confess to not having used any of these words but “messiness,” but maybe it’s time I searched for unique words, and when I can’t find what I need, coining my own!


MIss Demeanors


Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. Her story “Quiche Alain” appears in the Anthony-winning Malice Domestic Anthology, Murder Most Edible.  Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press, she’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Triangle SinC, Mavens of Mayhem SinC, the NC Writers Network, and the International Crime Writers Association.


  1. What a treat! I was just at the Charles Dickens Museum in London and I have a picture of his desk, which I will try to post.

  2. Interesting about Sawbones! I’ve seen that one used a great deal, and I think my first introduction to it was via “Sawbones”, which they shortened to “Bones” McCoy in the original Star Trek. The only word I’ve used myself is “messiness”.

    Happy Boxing Day!

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