Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

H.M.S. Pinafore


Articled Clerk. A pupil of a Solicitor who, generally for a fee, undertakes by articles of clerkship, containing covenants mutually binding, to instruct him in the principles and practice of the profession. It is generally necessary to be "articled" for a number of years before one can be "admitted" a Solicitor.

Attorney's firm. i.e. Solicitor's firm. Prior to the Judicature Act 1873 "Attorneys" conducted business in the Common Law Courts. "Solicitors" in the Court of Chancery, and "Proctors" conducted Ecclesiastical and Admiralty business.

It was usual to be admitted to practise both as "Attorney" or "Solicitor", although one could be admitted to practise as either only. After the Judicature Act these three parties all became known as "Solicitors", being made what is called "officers of the Supreme Court", but the old name "Attorney" occasionally continued in use, at any rate in Gilbert's time.

Baby-farming. An opprobrious name invented for the taking in of children to be nursed for payment. After the sum of money had been paid down, the parents took no further charge and no questions were asked. So many thousands of children died, in fact in most cases an early death was desired, that suspicions were raised, and the House of Commons took the matter up.

Now registration and licences are essential for houses where children are taken in.

Barcarolle. Really means an Italian boatman; but the term is used in music for a song or melody imitating those sung by Venetian Gondoliers.

Blue and White. Probably blue and white china, as mentioned in "Patience".


Bumboat Woman. A bumboat, so called on account of its clumsy shape, was employed to carry provisions and other articles from harbours and ports to vessels lying at some distance off shore. Boats of this kind belong to a class of petty traders who in England are, for the most part, women.

Catchy-catchies. Thought to be a term of affection used by a mother when throwing her baby into the air and catching "him" again--or possibly a variation of the term "he" or "it" in a child's game in which one designated as such, runs after others until he touches, or tags, one, who then in his turn becomes "he" or "it".

Cat-o'-nine-tails. A whip with nine knotted cords, used for flogging offenders on the bare back. Tradition assigns the "cat" to William III, before whose time the whip used in the Army is said to have had only three thongs. Flogging in the Army was prohibited, except as a punishment in military prisons, in 1881. In the Navy, the "cat" though it was not abolished but "suspended", may be regarded for all practical purposes as dead.

Cimmerian darkness. Pertaining to the Cimmerii, or their Country--a district, variously localized, where, according to fable, sunlight never penetrated; extremely dark.

Conies. Rabbits.

Elysian. Pertaining to Elysium; hence, yielding the highest pleasures.

Ganglion. A tumour under the skin.

Gillow's. Waring and Gillow Ltd. Furnishers and Decorators of Oxford Street, London.

Highlows. A laced boot, ankle high.

Josephine and Frederic

Hymen. Originally a marriage song among the Greeks. The name was gradually personified, and Hymen was invoked as the God of Marriage. He is represented as a taller and more serious youth than Eros--the God of Love--carrying a bridal torch.

Inflated frogs. One of Aesop's Fables. A frog was envious of a huge overgrown ox that was grazing in a meadow, so attempted to equal it in size, and went on swelling and swelling till it burst.

Institute. "Pass examination at the Institute" The examination which all would-be Solicitors must pass before they can be "admitted" and so become entitled to practise as a Solicitor.

The examination was held in the hall of the Law Society, as the Solicitor's Society is called. The Society was formerly called the "Law Institution" and in Gilbert's day, and for many years afterwards, it appears to have been customary to refer to the Society's buildings, as distinct from the Society itself, as "the Institution".

In Sir Joseph Porter's song, "When I was a lad I served a term", Gilbert traces the successful career of a Solicitor's office boy up through the various grades of clerk until he becomes an admitted Solicitor.

Jacky. English gin. Though it could refer to bread rolls.

K.C.B. Knight Commander of the Bath. The second of the three classes of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, instituted in 1399 by Henry IV.

After the coronation of Charles II (23 April, 1661) the Order was neglected until 1725, when it was revived by George I. At first it was a Military Order, but since 1847 it became Civil also. (1) Knight Grand Cross (G.C.B.); (2) Knight Commander (K.C.B.); (3) Companion (C.B.).

Pass Examination. See "Institute".

Patrician. A person of high birth; noble; aristocratic, as opposed to Plebian--a person of low birth.

Originally a patrician was one of any of the families forming the populus Romanus, or body of Roman citizens, before the growth of the plebian order.

Pennants dipping. To lower and then raise a flag as a naval salute. Today "dipping the flag" is an act of courtesy; men of war do not do it to one another, but if merchant ships "dip" their ensigns to them, they reply in a similar manner.

Pocket Borough. A Borough whose right of representation is controlled, or virtually owned, by a single person or family; a close borough. Few now exist.

A borough in which the freemen were all controlled by the pocket of the candidate. This was in the "good old days" before Parliamentary reform abolished the freemen's absurd privilege of election. While on this subject it may be of interest to mention "the Hustings"--a Council. '

Courts so-called were formerly held in many cities of England: Great Yarmouth, Lincoln, York and Norwich, and are still held in London before the Lord Mayor, Recorder, and Sheriffs. They formerly had exclusive authority in all real and mixed actions for the recovery of land within the city, except ejectment, but their jurisdiction has fallen into comparative desuetude. Wills were enrolled in the Court of Hustings of the "City" of London in 1258.

The word "Hustings" is also applied to the platform of the Guildhall when the Mayor and other officials held this Court; also to the platform from which electioneering speeches are delivered.

Polonies. Polony is a kind of dried sausage. The name is possibly a corruption of Bologna, a town in Italy, which has given its name to a large kind of sausage.

Ship a selvagee. A selvagee is a skein or hank of rope yarns wound round with yarns or marline, for stoppers, straps etc.

Soft Tommy. Bread as distinguished from hard-tack.

"Storks turn out to be but logs". In Aesop's Fables, a worthless and heavy log was sent by Jove to the frogs who prayed for a King. They complained to him of this inert monarch, and he then sent them a stork who ate them up.

Tommy. See "Soft Tommy".

Upper Crust--(of Society). The Aristocracy or the upper ten (thousand). The phrase was first used in "Sam Slick". The upper crust was at one time the part of the loaf placed before the most honoured guest.

Writ. "I served the writs"--A judicial process by which anyone is summoned as an offender; a legal instrument to enforce obedience to the orders and sentences of the court. There are many forms of writ, the most used modern writ is the Writ of Summons by which an action in the High Court of justice is commenced. In order to be effective a Writ has to be "served" on the party to whom it is addressed.

Page created 17 March 2000