Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Iolanthe

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Act I


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.

Quandary [Distort to rhyme with vagary]

A predicament or state of perplexity.



Andersen's library

Refers to Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, with library twisted to rhyme with fairy. Hyder (162) points out that in Gilbert's time some English language editions were actually titled Hans Christian Andersen's Library.

Ladies' Seminary

A school for refined young women.


Shepherds' crooks, those long poles with loopy hooks for snaring sheep. You see them in every Christmas pageant.


The Whigs were the forerunners of the Liberal party.

Grouse and salmon season

According to Bradley (46) the legal grouse hunting season in Great Britain runs from August 12 (hence "the glorious twelfth") to December 10. The legal fishing season for salmon runs from February 1 until the end of August. The Queen of the Fairies should have made season plural, but let it pass.

Friday nights [He shall end the cherished rights you enjoy on Friday nights]

Here is a well-chewed bone. Some authorities (11, 145, 147, 149, 171, 320) believe the "cherished rights" refer to the privilege of offering private bills, as opposed to those backed by one of the parties. Such a right would be cherished because private bills were likely to benefit the M.P.'s constituency. Other authorities (46, 142, 177, 242, 245, 286, 299) argue that Gilbert had in mind "early rising" (i.e., quitting at 7 PM instead of midnight or later). A key clue in this debate is that when the opera was written (1882) the line read "Wednesday nights." In 1902, however, some amendment to the law apparently caused Gilbert to change the libretto to read "Friday nights." The question then is what was amended? The answer is found in May's authoritative tomes (204, 205). They lead to these conclusions: (i) To begin with, the threat could not have been directed at the House of Lords because they did not meet at all on Wednesdays, so it must have been directed at the House of Commons. (ii) The threat could not have been directed at private bills because in 1882 private bills could be introduced on Tuesdays and Fridays as well as on Wednesdays. (iii) That leaves the threat as being directed at the Commons' custom of "early rising," which in 1902 was indeed changed from Wednesdays to Fridays. So, if only the Commons are under the gun, why do the peers cry "No! No!"? Collegial loyalty I suppose; but Prestige (245) has an alternative explanation: The Scottish and Irish peers who were not among the ranks of Representative Peers were eligible to run for election in the House of Commons. Those peers, at least, would have cause for alarm.

Marriage with deceased wife's sister

This refers to a long-standing legislative feud between the two houses of Parliament. The bill allowing such a marriage was finally passed in 1907, after some half a century of debate. Without such a ban, it was argued, an unmarried woman might be tempted to poison her married sister and then snare her bereaved brother-in-law. A more likely explanation is given by Stedman (273): "Presumably the ban was related to incest -- Hamlet is outraged at his mother's incest, she having married her deceased husband's brother. Interestingly enough, marriage with deceased wife's sister was permissible in the colonies. In Shaw's Major Barbara Adolphus Cusins is legitimate in Australia, but a bastard in England because his father did [that]."

Common Councilmen

Members of the City of London's municipal council, holding a rather modest level of influence and prestige.