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

Click a term to expand the definition; Search for a term; Select other Opera Chapters; Go to the Lexicon menu for introductory and afterword content..

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

Act I

Girton

The women’s college at Cambridge. It was founded by Emily Davies in 1869 as a college for women in Hertfordshire, but moved to Cambridge in 1873 (48). The concept of college education for women was still looked upon with misgivings at the time the opera was written.

Anglicized [to be completely Anglicized]
Sketch of English fashions!

“Make or become English in form, pronunciation, habits, customs, or character” (290).

Coruscation [a coruscation of impromptu epigram]

That which emits vivid flashes of light.

Epigram

A witty statement, like everyday conversation in a play by Oscar Wilde.

Lalabalele, talala! (etc.)

Are these supposed swear words “based on the Polynesian or Oceanic languages” as Halton (147) states? Fifteen experts doubt it (33, 35, 80, 79, 152, 172, 176, 186, 188, 190, 221, 239, 248, 305, and 308). Collectively, they have carefully searched in vain through dictionaries in the following languages or dialects: Aniwa, Anuta, Cook Island, Easter Island, Fiji, Futuna, Gilbert islands, Hawaii, Kapingamaravange, Kusaie, Maori, Marquesses, Marshall Islands (Kiribiti), Namuea, Niue, Nukoro, Rennell & Bellona, Samoa, Tahiti, Tangan, Tikopia, Tonga, Tökelau, Tuamotuan, Tuvalu, and Woleaian.

A telling clue:Wolfson (322) shows a page from Gilbert’s plot-book in which the Utopian language is indicated as “gibberish.”

Explosive ‘cracker’

“A paper cylinder which explodes when pulled asunder” (75). These are what Americans used to call party poppers (274) and the English call Christmas crackers (294). They were invented in 1847 by a confectioner named Tom Smith of Finbury Square, London (284).

Let off steam

The allusion is to reducing excess pressure in a boiler by allowing some of the steam to escape directly into the atmosphere. The expression has come to mean relieving oneself of anger or frustration by complaining to anyone who will listen. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Autocrat

A ruler having absolute power over his subjects.

‘Society’ paper

A periodical devoted to news about the personal affairs of the upper crust.

Heliogabalian

Refers to the Roman emperor Heliogabolus (or Elagabolus). We are told (105) that he was born in a.d. 204 and was named Varius Avitus Bassianus. (Do you suppose that first name reflects on there being various possible fathers?) While a youth he was appointed high priest of the Syro-Phoenician sun god Elagabol, and thereupon assumed the name Elagabolus. Appointed emperor after a military revolt in a.d. 218, he imposed the worship of Elagabol upon his subjects. Historians believe his religious rites involved human sacrifice. He appointed obvious misfits to high office and sent more than his share of dissident generals to early graves. His reign was marked by openly held homosexual orgies. He was killed by the Praetorian Guard after only four years in office. But that was quite enough.

Profligates

People who might be described as dissolute, depraved, abandoned to vice, and shamelessly immoral. Individuals of this desription have never been known to form G&S societies.

Double-first [Double-first in the world’s university]

Rees (254) explains the term in these words:

“The last year of study for a Baccalaureate (the ‘Honours’ year) ends with an examination in which the marks are not revealed. Instead the candidates are graded into First Class, Upper Second, Lower Second, Third Class and Unclassified. A double-first would mean receiving top grades in two Honours classes. Not bad!” The OED (228) defines double first as “A place in the first class in each of two final examinations in different subjects.” (“Subjects” here means a broad field such as theology or science.) Several authorities (116, 142, 173, 245, 257, 271) endorse the OED definition. Others (98, 314) aver that the examinations are not necessarily in two different fields, but occur in successive years––about equivalent to the junior and senior years in an American university. Everyone can agree, however, that “Double-first in the world’s university” means being a world-class intellectual wizard.

Cornucopia [Cornucopia is each in his mental fertility]
Sketch of Scaphio & Phantis

Any abundant, overflowing supply. Based on classical mythology, it was “a horn containing food, drink, etc. in endless supply, said to have been a horn of the goat Amalathaea or of the goat belonging to the nymph Amalathaea, or of Achelous, who lost it when he fought in the form of a bull with Hercules” (250). Now there is a cornucopia of useless information.

Lore [In every mental lore]

Knowledge or learning.

‘Utility’ [We’re wasted on ‘utility’]

Playing miscellaneous minor roles in theatrical productions.

Illicities [Upon our King’s illicities]

Unlawful, dishonest, or immoral acts.

Auriculars [A pound of dynamite explodes in his auriculars]

Ears.

P’s and Q’s [He minds his P’s and Q’s]

A colloquialism: “To be careful or circumspect in behavior; to be exact” (115). Nobody knows the origin of the term.

Brewer (54) suggests four alternatives: (i) an admonition to children in learning the alphabet to be careful not to mix the lower-case P’s and Q’s, (ii) a similar admonition to printers’ apprentices when handling type, (iii) a saloon keeper’s accounting shorthand: P for pints, Q for quarts, and (iv) during the reign of Louis XIV dancing masters would warn their pupils to mind their P’s (i.e., pieds, feet) and Q’s (i.e., queues, wigs) lest the latter fall off when executing a deep bow. Atkinson (14) suggests that English lawyers are expected to appear in court properly fitted with perukes (wigs), and a century ago would also have needed quill pens to record the proceedings. If their work involved much travel, they had to take particular care that they damaged neither perukes (P) nor quills (Q), since replacements might be hard to find in the hinterlands. Had enough? Let’s move on.

Requited [is your affection requited?]

Returned in like kind and equal measure.

Royal shoes

Presumably an allusion to King Paramount.

Pages