Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Utopia, Ltd.

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Act II




Pronunciation: Disobedient.

Pas de trois [With pas de trois we will conclude]

Pronunciation: pah-d’TWAH

Dance step for three.

Bring the people about his ears

The expression “about one’s ears” means causing trouble. The allusion is to a nest of hornets buzzing about one’s head (54).

Put him to bed

This may be short for “Put him to bed with a pickaxe and shovel,” meaning to bury him (115). Stedman (274) says “Oh go to bed” is another way of saying “Shut up!” Here the meaning is “take him away.”

Drivelling [You’re a drivelling barndoor owl]

Talking nonsense.

Barndoor owl

The standard references are silent on the subject of barndoor owls. The closest I have come is a reference as follows: “Barn-door fowl: a mongrel or cross-bred specimen of the common hen; a dunghill or barn-yard fowl” (70). Barker (25) suggests “a fatuous turkey.” My hypothesis is that a barndoor owl is a cross-bred bird, one-third barn owl, one-third wayward hen, and one-third Gilbertian imagination.

Vapid [You’re a vapid and vain old muff]

Lifeless and insipid.

On the Tapis [It’s still on the tapis]

Pronunciation: tah-PEE

“On the table cloth, under discussion or consideration” (228). Notice how the meaning of the term “to table” a matter changes as it crosses the Atlantic. In England when you table a matter you bring it up for discussion. In the States when you table it you postpone discussion.

Sap [Well done, you sly old sap]

This meaning of the word is related to the military process of undermining a wall: figuratively related to “stealthy or insidious methods of attacking or destroying something” (228). Walters (301) notes that the word is used as a mild form of abuse in a friendly, jocular manner. The word is derived from the French word sappe, shovel (266).

Mole [cunning old mole]

The work of the military sapper involves burrowing underground much as a mole does under your lawn or garden. (The three conspirators are pleased with their undercover plan.)

Noddle [It’s safe in my noddle]

A jocular expression for the head (75).



Biscuits [plate of mixed biscuits]

These are what Americans call cookies. Queen Victoria’s drawing rooms had been noted for their lack of victuals, but after this line appeared things at the palace improved, or so it is claimed.

Comeliness [In her magnificent comeliness]

Pronunciation: KUM-lee-ness

Grace, good-looks, and attractiveness.

Eleven stone two [an English girl of eleven stone two]

A stone is a unit of weight equal to 14 pounds. Eleven stone two, then would be 14x11 + 2 = 156 pounds.

“Field” tails off and the muffs diminish

The poorer riders are left strung out behind and the worst drop out altogether.

Eleven maids out –– and eleven maids in –– and perhaps an occasional “maiden over!”

Let’s poke through this thicket one step at a time. In the game of cricket there are eleven players on each team. The “eleven maids out” are the ones whose turn it is to play defensively much as one baseball team is in the field trying to keep the other from scoring. The “eleven maids in,” then would be the team whose turn it is “at bat.” An “over” comprises a series of six bowls (equivalent to pitches in baseball). A “maiden over” is one in which no one manages to score. Gilbert puts the two words in quotation marks to call attention to his pun.

Punts [She golfs, she punts]

Poles a boat along a river. (This often requires considerable skill and agility.)