Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Trial By Jury

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Reversed in banc [And never be reversed in banc]

A judgment overturned by a superior court employing a full bench of judges. In those days in England that was the only way of reversing a ruling.

Breach of Promise

Until 1970 in England breaking a marital engagement (normally by a man) was treated as a breach of legal contract and left the man vulnerable to legal action (24).

Called to the bar [When I, good friends, was called to the bar]

As explained under “Barristers” above, anyone aspiring to such a career must take training at one of London’s four “Inns of Court.” These are ancient institutions fulfilling the role of colleges of legal education for barristers and for maintaining professional standards. In addition to offices, apartments and a dining hall, each institution has a meeting hall, which originally featured a barrier or partition, “the bar,” separating the candidates from the fully-qualified members. When the senior members were satisfied with a candidate’s level of knowledge, that individual would be “called to the bar” to join the privileged members on the other side (54, 106, 178, 245). In short, “to be called to the bar” means to become accepted as a fully qualified barrister. The bar, incidentally, is also a collective term for the entire profession of barristers.

Impecunious [An impecunious party]

Short of money.

Swallow-tail coat

A coat the back of which is split in two halves that hang down about to the knees, while the front terminates at the waist. Goodman (142) says they are called “morning coats” and are still considered proper court dress for those upper-level barristers known as Queen’s Counsel. On the other hand, for a newly qualified barrister, such attire might have seemed hopelessly old-fashioned (302), and perhaps that “beautiful blue” was too gaudy (257).

Brief [A brief which I bought of a booby]

The papers summarizing a court case, prepared by a solicitor for the benefit of a barrister. A brief summarizes the history of the case, the witnesses and what they will testify, and facts for cross examination (177).


Brewer (54) defines a booby as “A spiritless fool, who suffers himself to be imposed upon.” A few have even been known to write lexicons.

Collar [A couple of shirts and a collar or two]

At the time the opera was written men’s dress shirts were likely to have detachable collars, which were held in place by two little rivets (“collar buttons”) front and back. This allowed the easily soiled collars to be laundered more often than the rest of the shirt.

Westminster Hall

A part of the Palace of Westminster adjacent to the Houses of Parliament. It was used as the High Court of Justice from 1755 to 1883 (60) or 1884 (142).

Semi-despondent fury [I danced a dance like a semi-despondent fury]

In classical mythology, furies were female divinities who punished crimes at the instigation of the victims (250). The term “semi-despondent fury” should not be taken literally. It is, rather, an example of Gilbert’s fondness for wringing humor from the shotgun wedding of incongruous words.

Third-class journeys

The cheapest form of public transport on British railroads (178).

Pluck [You shall reap the reward of your pluck, my boy, at the Bailey and Middlesex Sessions]

Courage or spirit. Bosdêt (43) observes that “pluck” is a generic term for the liver and lungs of animals, which Americans might call “guts,” which is also a slang term for bravery.


Brewer (54) explains that this refers “to the Central Criminal Court of the City of London … situated in the thoroughfare of that name.” He goes on to surmise that the word comes from the Latin ballium, meaning enclosure: that area enclosed by the city wall. Walters (301) adds that the outer wall of a castle is called a bailey. The “Ancient Bailey” to which the judge later refers is a variation on its usual sobriquet “Old Bailey.”

Middlesex Sessions
Sketch of Many a burglar I've restored

This refers to the magistrates’ courts at the Sessions House in Clerkenwell (99, 177, 283, 300). Middlesex was the county in which London was located. It and parts of other adjoining counties were later administratively absorbed by the area of Greater London (166). Goodman (87) says Sessions is short for “Quarter Sessions, “the quarterly sittings totaling about 100 days. In general such courts handled only limited civil and criminal cases.

Gurneys [At length I became as rich as the Gurneys]

A family of Quakers who formed a banking house in Norwich in 1770 (178). In about 1800 they opened a branch in London. It became the world’s greatest bill-discounting house and was known as “the bankers’ banker,” taking business away from the Bank of England. The Gurneys went public in 1865, forming a joint stock company with limited liability. In 1866 the London branch failed, in debt £11 million. The Gurney family, however, remained wealthy –– which was probably at least in part the inspiration for Gilbert’s later jabs at limited liability companies (as in The Gondoliers and Utopia Limited) (103). The Norwich branch prospered and was taken over by Barclays in 1896 (48). As an aside, you might want to know that a Gurney relative invented those light carriages on which you recline while being whisked about in hospitals (43).

Incubus [An incubus then I thought her]

The OED (229) gives several definitions, among the kindest of which is “A person or thing that weighs upon and oppresses like a nightmare.” In medieval times it denoted a demon who had his way with women when they slept. The word derives from the Latin incubare, to lie on (which also gives us incubate). To complete this discourse, perhaps you should know that the female equivalent of an incubus is a succubus. Gentlemen, Beware!

Fudge [Though all my law be fudge]

Fudge is a colloquialism dating back at least to 1700, when it meant a lie (229). By Gilbert’s time it also meant anything ridiculous or highly unreliable (56, 115). As a verb it means to obscure the truth (142). Knight (178) says the word was not applied to candy until the end of the nineteenth century.


Very softly, in a stage whisper.

Patent [It is patent to the mob]

Pronunciation: Rhymes with latent

Obvious. See also The Sorcerer.

Mob [It was managed by a job]

Derived from the Latin mo’bile vulgus (the fickle crowd), and dating back to the time of Charles II (56).