Green’s Dictionary of Slang

devil, the phr.

1. used to intensify a var. of questions; an early var. on hell, the phr. (1); often as how the devil...? phr.; what the devil...? phr.; where the devil...? phr.; who the devil...? phr.

[UK]J. Heywood Fifth Hundred of Epigrams (1867) 183: When the diuell will ye come in agayne?
[UK]‘Sapper’ Third Round 624: Why the devil didn’t I give him the notes and be done with it when he was here?
[UK]Wodehouse Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit 16: Why the devil are women always late?
[UK]F. Durbridge A Time of Day (1989) 96: Why the devil should he ask you that?

2. a general intensifier used to express anger, annoyance, impatience; an early var. on hell, the phr. (2)

[UK]J. Day Blind Beggar of Bednall-Green Act IV: Cony-catcher? the Devill you are?
[UK]T. Killigrew Parson’s Wedding (1664) II v: wild.: He refuses to show me his Wench. care.: The devil he do’s; what have we been thus long comrades, and had all things in common, and must we now come to have common Wenches particular?
[UK]Behn Lucky Chance I i: There’s the devil, Charles, had I but that ... but that seldom fails, but yet in vain.
[UK]Farquhar Constant Couple II iii: He, – is the rarest fool in nature, – the devil he is!
[UK]Garrick Lethe Act I: The devil you would!
[UK]G. Colman Yngr Spleen I i: mer.: Because she is married already. jack.: The devil she is?
[UK]G. Colman Yngr Poor Gentleman IV ii: worth.: I might have known, that one of your cast is deaf to the petition of distress. sir rob.: The devil I am!
[US]J.K. Paulding Westward Ho! I 46: ‘The devil!’ exclaimed the colonel, astonished.
[UK]J. Lindridge Sixteen-String Jack 130: ‘I want her services to-night.’ ‘The devil you do, Master Jack Rann’ said Sheppard, with knowing leer.
[UK]Northampton Mercury 24 June 7/7: it’s the regulation of the house, and the devil anything else ye’ll get till ye finish the soup.
[UK]M.E. Kennard Girl in the Brown Habit I 46: The devil he did!
[UK]E. Raymond Tell England (1965) 308: ‘The devil!’ exclaimed I.