Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Iolanthe

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Enter part of a term; e.g., "gill" for Gillow's.

Act I


Testimony in proof of something (56). The rules of evidence generally forbid repeating what someone else has said.

Affidavit [an affidavit from a thunderstorm]

A written statement, given under oath before a proper officer such as a solicitor or magistrate, to be used in court.

Said I to myself -- said I

An expression possibly derived from a popular song, "Thinks-I-to-myself, Thinks-I," which was in turn derived from a popular novel of the same name published in 1811 (219).

Brief [his attorney has sent me a brief]

A summary of a client's case, prepared by a solicitor for use by a barrister. See also Trial By Jury.


To throw dust in someone's eyes is an old expression meaning to mislead that person. Sperling (270) says, "In the battle of Honein, the prophet Mohammad supposedly threw dust in the air to confuse his enemies and this apparently successful tactic led to a new turn of phrase."

Exchequer, Queen's Bench, Common Pleas, or Divorce

These were various British courts of justice. Borrowing heavily from Goodman (141): Exchequer was one of the superior courts of common law in Westminster Hall. It handled cases involving revenues of the Crown and so forth. (The name dates back to medieval times and comes from the checkered cloth on which the king's accounts were handled.) Queen's Bench has since 1875 been the principal (i.e., busiest) division of the High Court of Justice. Common Pleas holds exclusive jurisdiction over actions pertaining to real property, and actions between ordinary citizens. (It was apparently merged with Queen's Bench a couple of years before the opera appeared.) Divorce was "more properly known as the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, 1873-1970." Its full name explained most or all of its work. It is now called the Family Division.

Perjured [Have perjured themselves]

To be guilty of telling a lie while under oath.

Bark [When tempests wreck thy bark]

In its most general sense, a ship. Figuratively, read "when you are in trouble."

Minx [I heard the minx remark]

A saucy girl, at best.

St. James's Park

Bradley (46) says this is the oldest of six royal parks in central London, established by Henry VIII in 1532. It takes its name from the previous owners, the Sisters of St. James in the Field. Goodman (140) adds the telling note that in the 1870s it had become notorious as a hunting ground for prostitutes. What would the Sisters think?

One [and give him one!]

In good Queen Victoria's time, when the opera was written, this could imply nothing more risqué than a kiss. If you wish to make anything more of it, pray go ahead.

Dissemble [Thy fault to dissemble]

Disguise. See same entry in HMS Pinafore for more details.

Dolce far niente

Pronunciation: DOLE-cheh far nee-ENN-teh

Happy lollygagging, blissful dalliance. Italian for "It is sweet to do nothing" (66).

Festina lente

Pronunciation: fes-TINE-uh, (or fes-TEEN-uh) LEN-tay

Make haste slowly. The motto of the Emperor Augustus (66).

Clay [She moistenèd my clay]

Clay refers to the human body, as distinct from the soul. The expression "to moisten or wet one's clay" is cited in the OED (229) as a humorous way of saying "to drink."

Succour [The succour she supplied]

A rescue from distress.

Pipe our eye

Cry (54, 115, 229, 250). This brings visions of fitting one's eyes with pipes to carry a goodly supply of tears from some reservoir. A few lines earlier the peers had been crying over the thought that Strephon might have died in babyhood had not his mother fed him. Since he did not die, why should they go on crying? The reason is that they now wish he had so he would not be stealing Phyllis from them.


A rustic lover.


Of highest rank. Another Gilbertian invention.


In Britain the wife of an earl.


Good English slang for an outright fib. Fie.

Tol lol lay

These are probably merely filler words. Tol lol is used in The Grand Duke to mean "just so-so," but any connection with taradiddles is tol lol at best.

Double-dealing [on a career of double-dealing]

Brewer (56) defines this as "professing one thing and doing another inconsistent with that promise."


Pronunciation: reh-PEN-tay

Gilbert tells us it means "of a sudden." But in what language? Bradley (46) and Asimov (11) say both Italian and Latin.


A statement that seems absurd but is in fact correct.


Pronunciation: CONE-trah-dee-CHEN-teh

Latin for "contradicting."

Addled [Perhaps his brain is addled]

Confused. See also Ruddigore.

Bearded [Bearded by these puny mortals]

Alludes to the expression "to beard the lion in his lair," which means to defy someone personally and face-to-face. See also Princess Ida.

Badinage [your badinage so airy]

Playful banter.

Vagary [a plague on this vagary]

Pronunciation: vay-GARE-ee

A capricious idea or action.