Where does the phrase "the dickens" come from?

Dear Cecil:

Where does the phrase "the dickens" come from, as in "he scared the d. out of me"? I presume this refers to Charles Dickens, but I don't get the logic.

Cecil replies:

Cecil replies:

Presume nothing, friend. "Dickens" is thought to be a euphemism for "the devil," much as "gosh" is a sub for "God," "heck" for "hell," and "mofo" for … well, no point getting graphic. Some speculate that "dickens" is a short form of an earlier term "devilkin," little devil, but this has never been firmly established.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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