Green’s Dictionary of Slang

what the devil...? phr.

also what a devil…? what in the devil...?
[devil, the phr.]

a general interrogatory intensifier; a var. on what the hell...? phr.

[UK]Alliterative Poems (Morris) 97: [Jonah is asked by his shipmates] what ye devel hats you don? [F&H].
[UK]Skelton Bowge of Courte line 208: But I wonder what the devyll of helle He sayde of me, whan he with you dyde talke.
[UK]J. Heywood A Merry Play in Farmer Dramatic Writings (1905) 73: What the devil reck I?
[UK]Trial of Treasure Aiii: What the Deuill ailed me to singe thus.
[UK]Beaumont Woman Hater II i: What the deuill do’st thou in blacke.
[UK]Fletcher Women Pleased III iv: What a Devill is this? ty’d to her finger too? A string, a damned string to give intelligence?
[UK]Dryden An Evening’s Love Act III: What the Devil did I mean to play with this Brunet of Africk?
[UK]T. Brown Amusements Serious and Comical in Works (1744) III 61: What the devil have we here to do.
[UK]H. Carey Dragon of Wantley II i: Why, what the Devil is the Woman doing!
[UK]W. Toldervy Hist. of the Two Orphans III 24: What the d---l have you got there?
[UK]Foote The Minor 50: What the devil can I do?
[US]‘Andrew Barton’ Disappointment I i: The letter will do to a tittle, but what the devil’s this ancient, worm-eaten piece?
[UK]H. Cowley Belle’s Stratagem I i: What the devil brings you to this part of town?
[UK]J. Gillray Hopes of the Party, prior to July 14th (cartoon) 19 July : Zounds! what the devil is it that puts me into such a hell of a Funk?
[UK] ‘They Took Me to the Holy Band’ in Farmer Merry Songs and Ballads (1897) IV 273: I answer’d in not mony words, / ‘What deil need a’ this clatter?’.
Byron letter 18 Sept. Works (1844) 71/1: I have also to request you will call on Louch and inquire what the devil he meant by sending such an insolent letter to me at Brighton.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 74: Why, what the devil is the matter?
[UK]Marryat Snarleyyow II 198: Now, Mr What-the-devil’s-your-name, you must drink off a glass of my burnt brandy.
[UK]Blackwood’s Edinburgh Mag. XLVII 55/2: What the devil d’you call ’em?
Staffs Sentinel 3 Mar. 5/1: She noticed his hand to catch in her pocket. She said to him, ‘What the devil are you doing?’.
[UK]T. Hughes Tom Brown at Oxford (1880) 26: What the devil do I care.
[US]Appleton’s Journal (N.Y.) 3 Dec. 667/2: What the devil are you looking at me in that way for?
[UK]C. Rook Hooligan Nights 117: I wonder what the devil they’re talking about.
[US]F.P. Dunne Mr Dooley Says 155: I don’t know-what-th’-divvle-it-was.
[UK]‘Sapper’ Human Touch 14: What the devil are you laughing at?
[UK]‘Sapper’ Bulldog Drummond 170: What the devil was he to do now?
[US]H. Miller Tropic of Cancer (1963) 124: My God! [...] what in the devil is all this? What does it mean?
[UK]Wodehouse Right Ho, Jeeves 153: What the devil [...] are you talking about?
[US]R. Prather Always Leave ’Em Dying 109: What the devil goes on out there?
[UK]P. Barnes Ruling Class I x: I don’t know what the devil you’re on about.