Pickwick Papers "Pickwickian Sense"

Charles Dickens

"Pickwickian Sense"

Context: Samuel Pickwick, Dickens' most lovable creation, is President of the club that bears his name. At a meeting of the club he has just delivered a learned paper entitled "Speculations on the Source of the Hampstead Ponds with Some Observations on the Theory of Tittle-bats." In his speech, Mr. Pickwick alludes to the dangerous conditions in the contemporary world: stage coaches upsetting, horses bolting, boilers bursting. In the midst of the cheers greeting these remarks, the voice of Mr. Blotton is heard crying "No!" Mr. Pickwick accuses Mr. Blotton of jealousy, to which allegation Mr. Blotton replies by calling Mr. Pickwick a humbug. In the ensuing wrangle, the chairman asks Mr. Blotton if he had used the word "humbug" in a common sense. Mr. Blotton answers that he had used the word in its "Pickwickian sense." The term has come to mean the use of a word in a sense contrary to its real meaning, or with no meaning at all. The exchange follows:

"The Chairman was quite sure the hon. Pickwickian would withdraw the expression he had just made use of.
"Mr. Blotton, with all possible respect for the chair, was quite sure he would not.
"The Chairman felt it his imperative duty to demand of the honourable gentleman, whether he had used the expression which had just escaped him, in a common sense.
"Mr. Blotton had no hesitation in saying, that he had not–he had used the word in its Pickwickian sense. (Hear, hear.) He was bound to acknowledge, that, personally, he entertained the highest regard and esteem for the honourable gentleman; he had merely considered him a humbug in a Pickwickian point of view. (Hear, hear.)"