Preface to the Online Edition

When my first edition appeared, in 1978, it attracted a fair share of friendly criticism for its mistakes and omissions. In 1991, with the second edition, I sought to satisfy the critics; but, alas! I once again failed to attain perfection. In like manner the carefully edited third edition (1998) attracted further suggestions for refinement. Moreover, there are still several terms in which Gilbert’s meaning is obscure. Examples include rig, grig, gondolet, Montero, and daphnephoric bound. We must also watch out for those few cases where Gilbert may have been careless – as when he says “first take off his boots with a boot tree,” but his picture shows a boot jack. Then, too, poetic license must be granted. As Gilbert once noted, “when people lapse into poetry you can never be quite sure what they mean.” In light of all of the above, I have concluded that there will always be room for improvement, and therefore the lexicon should be treated as a living, work-in-progress, an ever-improving reference. That aim, however, introduces the problem of financing a continual stream of newly printed editions in the face of a limited market.

In addition to the problem outlined above, I have to consider my advancing years, now in the nineties. This has led me to seek an editorial successor, and I have had the good luck to find the ideal individual for the assignment: Professor Ralph MacPhail, Jr., who–figuratively speaking–combines the manners of a Marquis with the morals of a Methodist, as far as this particular responsibility is concerned. He is well known to G&S enthusiasts around the world; he has the required intellectual skills in abundance; he is serious about defending the purity of the English language (in both British and American versions): and he brings considerable enthusiasm to the job. Moreover, being newly retired from his notable academic career, he should hope to find the time required to keep the lexicon alive.

​Rafe has made an excellent suggestion: that we abandon the thought of publishing another conventional book, but make the intellectual content freely available in an electronic, online edition. The beauty of this is that he can easily effect improvements on a continuing basis, and future references to the work can be made to the Online Edition with the date of access.

There are other advantages to this scheme for making continual improvements. First, Gilbert's amazing vocabulary gives a fertile field for sowing our intellectual seeds; as time goes on, we can expect to find additional facts to enrich our existing entries. Second, by switching to the Internet, we have no incentive to overly-minimize wordage to hold down printing costs. Third, in the far future our readership may develop in ways that may suggest the need for defining terms that today need no such help.

I am sincerely grateful to Rafe for his enthusiastic willingness to take over as editor. I am sure the lexicon will prosper under his devoted guidance.

--Harry Benford (Ann Arbor, 2008)

A Postscript—and An Invitation

Five years: it seems so long! Various projects have delayed the appearance of Harry’s Lexicon online, but another real stumbling block has been my ignorance of HTML coding.

So I was very pleased when Ted Spencer expressed interest, just over a year ago, in the challenges of converting the Lexicon to an online resource for Savoyards everywhere and in hosting it at his website, It is due to Ted’s knowledge, cleverness, creativity, and perseverance that Harry’s generous gift is now up and running.

Ted joins me, however, in echoing Harry’s comment above that this is a work-in-progress. Ted and I both have plans for making the Lexicon even more useful as we adapt it to this dynamic new medium and continue to amplify and tweak it. These plans include more options for searching; cross-referencing terms used in more than one opera; full libretti with hyperlinks to definitions; and even audio pronunciation aids for some entries.

I also hope in time to restore definitions and corroborative details deleted from the first and second editions because of space limitations in printed books. In addition, Harry has been sending me corrections and updates to the third edition for years now, and these will eventually be incorporated into the work. With the help of you, the online users, additional corrections and amplifications will be made.

So suggestions, corrections, and feedback are welcome; please send them to

I am very grateful for the trust Harry has placed in my editorship of his classic reference work in this new medium; ‘tis an honor to be associated with it—and a pleasure, too. With your help and Ted’s, Benford’s Lexicon will live on and continue to provide insight and delight to that special brand of folk who love the Savoy operas.

--Ralph MacPhail, Jr. (Bridgewater, July 2013)