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Glossary

courtesy of Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society


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Agitato A musical term used to indicate that a passage should be sung or played in an agitated manner.

Antithetical humour The laugh of seeing the opposite of what you expected. This is the essence of Gilbert's "Topsy-turvy" humour.

Asinorum pons Latin for "bridge of asses." The Pons Asinorum is the fifth proposition in Euclid's Elements of Geometry. It is the first difficult theorem in geometry and is a stumbling block for dull students (asses).

Auriculars Fancy term for "ears."

Backwardation A sum paid by a seller to the purchaser of a stock or commodity for the privilege of deferring the closing of the sale to a later date. This can occur in a market condition in which the price of a commodity or stock is expected to be lower in the future than at the present. This leads to "selling short," a contributing factor to our recent economic woes.

Belgravian airies Belgrave Square in London is a posh residential district and the location of many embassies. The "airies" are below street-level areas surrounding the basements of the fine homes, providing access to the basement
servants' quarters.

Brewers and Cotton Lords The granting of peerages to brewers and other wealthy businessmen was a feature of British Conservative Governments of the 1870s and 1880s.

C "Ah, do not laugh at my attempted C!" The note which Sullivan provides for the hapless Fitzbattleaxe to land on here is, in fact, an E flat.

Christy Minstrels E. P. Christy formed his troupe of minstrels in 1843 at the height of the American cult for "black face" singers. Although this original group never visited Britain, several other companies took over the name – two claiming to be the "original" Christy Minstrels. The popularity of this type of entertainment continued through the 1890s.

Chromatics All of the notes (including sharps or flats) of a scale. Hitting all the black keys as well as the white keys.

Coruscation Lighting up with bright flashes as of wit.

Cornucopia The horn of plenty. It provides whatever you need and never runs out.

Company Limited The principal of limited liability ensures that the loss that an owner or shareholder of a business may incur is limited to the amount of capital invested by him and does not extend to his personal assets. In the U.S. this is known as a corporation. In the U.S. a company might be called "Acme, Inc." In England it would be "Acme, Ltd."

Contango A sum paid by a purchaser to the seller of a stock or commodity for the privilege of deferring the completion of the sale to a future date when the price is expected to be higher. The oil futures market in the summer of 2008 was said to be in a "contango" condition.

County Rates In England, taxes are imposed by the national government while "Rates" were imposed by local city and county governments.

De trop French expression meaning "superfluous" or too much, too many or implying "over the top."

Double-first "Double first in the world's university!" To finish first in class in each of two different fields of study at a university.

Draught A medicine intended to be taken orally.

Drawing-Room A formal introduction of debutantes to a personage of high rank.

Drover A person who drives domestic animals to market.

Eleven maids out "Eleven maids out – and eleven maids in – and perhaps an occasional 'maiden over'." In the game of cricket there are eleven players on each team. The "eleven maids out" are those bowling and fielding (on defence) and the "eleven maids in" are those batting (on offence). An "over" comprises a series of six balls (pitches). A "maiden over" is one in which no one scores.

English Tenors In England at the time, aristocratic patrons of musical theatre would only pay to hear Italian or German tenors.

Exhibits "When our medical adviser exhibits rum-punch" In this sense it means prescribes."

Far niente Italian for doing "sweet nothing."

Fico Italian for "fig." Used here to describe something of little or no value.

First Life Guards Or the Household Cavalry, the senior regiment of the British Army. They post sentries on huge black horses while wearing scarlet tunics, polished breastplates and plumed helmets outside Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall. They are a popular photographic subject with tourists.

Flowers of Progress Experts in various fields of government (The Law, County Government, the Chancery, Commerce, the Army and the Navy) brought to Utopia by Princess Zara to bestow the blessings of British civilization. Today they would be called "consultants."

Fomentation A medicine intended to be applied to the body externally.

Furlong A distance of 1/8 of a mile or 660 feet. Originally it was "furrowlong" – the length of a ploughed furrow. Today the term is used almost exclusively to measure the length of horse races.

Girton A college for women established in 1869 that became part of Cambridge in 1878.

Heliogabalus A Roman Emperor who ruled under the name Marcus Aurelius Antonius from 218 to 222 A.D., when he was murdered by the Praetorian Guards. He was possibly the most dissolute of all the Roman emperors and indulged in mad orgies. One of the many accomplishments of Major-General Stanley in "Pirates" was the ability to list all of his crimes.

Joint Stock Company One in which the stockholders can sell their shares whenever they please, for whatever price they can get, without consulting any of the other owners.

Junius Junior This and other Latin-sounding names (Senex Senior, Mercury Major, Mephistopheles Minor) were often used as pseudonyms in scathing letters to newspapers. "Junius Junior" literally would mean something like "younger young man."

K.C.B. Knight Commander of the Bath, one of Britain's highest honours.

King Paramount the First "Paramount" means above all others, or "Number one." Thus we literally have "King No. 1, the First!"

Knightsbridge Nursemaids Knightsbridge is a fashionable district of West London in which Harrods is located. The nursemaids there would be of a higher class and subject to flirtation with the First Life Guards who were based at Knightsbridge Barracks.

Kodak The first Kodak cameras introduced by George Eastman in 1888 came with the film sealed inside. When the photographer had finished exposing the film, the entire camera with its film was then mailed to Rochester, NY, and the photographs, along with the camera, now replenished with film, were returned. This was a great improvement for amateur photographers. The advertising slogan was: "Simply press the button and we do all the rest," a phrase picked up in its entirety in Kalyba and Nekaya's song.

Lalabalele talala! While some have contended that Tarara's outbursts were authentic Polynesian, most sources insist that it was total gobbledegook invented by Gilbert.

Liquidators Those who are appointed by the court to oversee the bankruptcy proceedings of a company and to sell off its assets.

Lord High Chamberlain One of the tasks of the Lord High Chamberlain in England was to act as censor of plays to make sure that nothing untoward or naughty appeared on stage. Hence, Gilbert gave him the name "Dramaleigh."

Lotus Odysseus' crew visited the "Land of Lotus Eaters." Eating lotus leaves caused his men to forget their homeland and never want to leave.

Maiden Over See "Eleven maids out."

Maxim Gun & Nordenfeldt Early types of machine guns. The Nordenfeldt was similar to a Gatling gun.

Mixed Biscuits "The cup of tea and the plate of mixed biscuits were a cheap and effective inspiration." It is said that after the Prince of Wales saw Utopia, Limited, he instituted the serving of refreshments at British Royal "Drawing-Rooms."

M.P. Member of Parliament.

Musty, fusty Both words mean smelling stale or mildewed. Stuffy and out of date.

Pas de trois French. A dance for three people.

Philologist A student of literature and language.

Philomel Greek for "Nightingale." Often used poetically.

Poppydom Poppies, the source of opium. This plus the above mentioned lotus-eating indicates the natives may indeed have been extremely content.

Predilection A preference. Something that a person likes to do.

Prospectus A printed brochure designed to describe all the desirable points of owning stock in a company.

Punts A punt is a flat-bottomed shallow boat, broad and square at both ends which is propelled by a means of a long pole thrust into the bottom of the river popular in the university cities of Oxford and Cambridge. To punt is to propel such a vessel.

Q.C. "Queen's Counsel." A distinction conferred on eminent barristers.

Quotum A share. An allocation of time.

St. James's Hall Built in the heart of the London theatrical district in 1858, it housed popular music concerts – including the "classical Monday pops" mentioned in the Mikado's song. It would hardly be confused with the Court of St. James.

Stone A stone is an British Imperial unit of weight equal to 14 pounds. A girl of "eleven stone two" would weigh 156 pounds. At "five foot ten" she would be a strapping young lady!

Sub Acid Just slightly sour.

Tarantella A very quick Neapolitan dance said to have been based on the gyrations of those bitten by a tarantula.

Tarara "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay" was a hit song of the 1890s. Gilbert thought this a great name for a character called "The Public Exploder."

Tapis Pronounced "tapee" – A tapestry used as a tablecloth. "Still on the tapis" – an idea that is still on the table.

Teetotum A type of top spun by children which will show one side up when it stops. Similar to a Jewish dreyd'l.

Tivoli Pleasure garden and amusement park opened in Copenhagen in 1843 and still going strong.

Tontine Principal An investment or ownership arrangement whereby the surviving member inherits everything. After Lorenzo Tonti, a Neapolitan banker who introduced the system into France in 1653.

Unbend your sails Sails are "bent" (attached) to the yardarms with ropes. "Unbend" means to dismantle or take down your sails.

Unstep your masts A "mast step" on a sailing vessel is foundation block on top of the keel on which a mast is stood upright. The process of placing the mast in position is called "stepping." To "unstep" a mast means to take it down.

Utopia Greek for "no place." An imaginary land or ideal community. In this case, a South Seas paradise.

Vibrato A musical term to indicate much vibration of tone.

Virelay One of the fixed forms of French lyric poetry of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Viviparian A word made up by Gilbert that indicates beings born alive rather than hatched from eggs. Derived from the adjective viviparous.

Winding up Petition Declaration of bankruptcy by a failed limited liability company. A request to liquidate the company or for an infusion of more capital – or as we now say, a request for a "bailout."

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