Early in the first season of the new series of Doctor Who, the Doctor and his companion travel to Dickensian London, where they mean the man himself. Charles Dickens, I mean.
The show presents us with a wonderful moment where Dickens, confused and bewildered, asks, "What the Shakespeare is going on?"
It's lovely for many reasons. One of them is that it does what the show itself does. It twists the basic chronology of Earth history. It presumes that confused and bewildered people will always say "What the [best writer prior to that time]?" when faced with difficulty. People in the future might be saying "What the Vonnegut is going on?"
Actually, the phrase "What the dickens?" has been around for a long time. In fact, that's another reason it's lovely. Shakespeare himself uses the phrase in Merry Wives of Windsor:
Perhaps, in a future Doctor Who, we'll meet Shakespeare again—only to hear him say, "What the Chaucer is happening here?"I cannot tell what the dickens his name is . . . . (III.ii)
- I was paying the bills this morning with the show on more-or-less in the background. I wasn't wasting time. I can do two things at once.
- I chose Vonnegut over your favorite author because of the flow of the phrase rather than belief in his genius. "What the Woolf" (for Virginia Woolf) or "What the Berry?" (for Wendell Berry) or just didn't have the right ring. "What the Russell T. Davies?" sounds nice (and has the woodnotes wild of Whales warbling right with it), but it's a bit too lengthy.
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