Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Sorcerer

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Act I


The OED (229) defines this as, “Anything that counteracts, or neutralizes the influence of a charm.” Surely, you could have inferred as much; but I went to the trouble of looking it up, so there it is.


Objects worn on the person to bring good luck or ward off the devil. Shipley (266) says the word derives from Latin amolire letum (to turn away death). Brewer (56) on the other hand says it comes from the Arabic word hamulet, meaning that which is suspended.

Nativity [We can cast you a nativity at a low figure]

Meaning we can determine the exact position of the planets at the time of your birth. This is what an astrologer does in casting your horoscope.

Horoscope [a horoscope at three-and-six]

A diagram of the heavens at a given time, and used by astrologers to tell fortunes.


Three shillings and sixpence, or 17.5 percent of a pound sterling.

Abudah chests [Our Abudah chests, each containing a patent Hag]

Abudah was the central character in a pseudo-Persian fairy tale by James Ridley, included in his book Tales of the Genii (255). Abudah was a wealthy and charitable merchant whose nights were disturbed: “For no sooner was the merchant retired within the walls of his chamber, than a little box, which no art might remove from its place, advanced without help to the center of the chamber, and opening, discovered to his sight the form of a diminutive old hag, who with crutches hopped forward to Abudah, and every night addressed him in the following terms …” (Her nocturnal castigations admonished him to seek out “the talisman of Oromanes,” which would bring true contentment –– which turned out not to be the case; but we’ve told you enough to explain the term Abudah chest more thoroughly than you really wanted to know.)


Patent has several meanings. It may, for example, mean either obvious or protected by patent rights. In the present context the second meaning is patently correct; it’s more commercial and fitting to Mr. Wells’s approach to commercial sorcery. Our British friends often pronounce it PAY-tent. Evans (111) explained: “Scientists and lawyers call it –– correctly ––‘pat-tent.’ Nearly everyone else calls it ‘pay-tent,’ usually meaning not an actual legal patent but just an ingenious device.” See also Trial By Jury.


A hag is, in this case, a presumably mechanical sorceress who (by some undisclosed means) can prophecy disasters.

Spring complete [with spring complete]

This means the Abudah chest comes completely equipped with a spring –– presumably to activate the patent hag.

Aladdin lamps

In The Arabian Nights, Aladdin acquired a magic lamp that when rubbed produced a genie to do his bidding.

Prophetic Tablets

These are flat surfaces, perhaps of wood, each containing an array of various symbols that, when correctly interpreted, allow one to predict the future. Rees (254) adds that these may contain chemicals producing “magic fire,” generating colored flames and smoke.

Change of Ministry [from a change of Ministry down to a rise in Unified]

In England, the term “change of Ministry” usually implies a complete change of government, with one party replacing the other (257). In a broader interpretation, much more modest changes, such as the replacement of a single cabinet member, might be understood (142, 254). Within the context, the first interpretation seems more appropriate. Turnbull (294) says the term is now obsolete.


British government bonds. On opening night, in 1877, the term “Turkish stock” was used. The late George Applegate (8) reported that Turkey was then borrowing from some of the western countries of Europe, “which would, I suppose, cause her stock to rise and fall from day to day.” In modern American productions some well known stock might well be mentioned. How about General Motors, or Exxon, or perhaps the Dow Jones average?

[Note on Patter Songs] [My name is John Wellington Wells]

Now we come to John Wellington Wells’s self-introduction, often looked upon as the first of the G&S list (or patter) songs that have become perhaps the most distinguishing and popular feature of the Savoy operas. A patter song is a comic number depending for its humorous effect on rapid enunciation of words (158). The word patter is most commonly thought to derive from pater-noster, the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer said with a Roman Catholic rosary. Brewer (54) states, “When saying mass the priest often recited in a low, rapid, mechanical way until he came to the words ‘and lead us not into temptation,’ which he spoke clearly and deliberately.”

Melt a rich uncle in wax

Dunn (100) and Walmisley (299) concur that the expression relates to a medieval superstition that one could effect the death of a person by melting his or her waxen image. Rossetti’s poem “Sister Helen” tells of a woman who, mad with jealousy, gradually melts her ex-lover’s waxen image for three days and nights, starting on the morn of his scheduled wedding to another woman.

Djinn [the resident Djinn]
Sketch of Our resident djinn

In Arabian mythology, spirits of supernatural powers. Also spelled genie or jinnee. Djinn is the plural of djinnee, in case you ever come up against one. In Arabian mythology such spirits were created two thousand years before Adam and Eve (55). The resident djinn would be a collection of such supernatural creatures available to do your bidding on a full-time basis.

Simmery Axe [Number seventy, Simmery Axe]

The authentic Londoner’s pronunciation of St. Mary Axe.

Posthumous shade [And for raising a posthumous shade]

Pronunciation: POSS-cheh-muss

Posthumous refers to conditions after death. Shade has many meanings. The most likely one here is ghost. Raising pertains to calling up from the grave.

Returns [unbounded returns]

Another word for profit, nice work for a prophet. Hyder (162) writes that Gilbert was alluding to the popular Victorian business slogan: “Small profits, quick returns,” which was, in turn, a play on the Roman S.P.Q.R. (Senatus populusque Romanus: the Senate and people of Rome).

Proclivity [Humour proclivity]

A natural tendency.

Oracular [Answers oracular]

Here’s a term teeming with mystic significance. It can mean an infallible guide. It can also mean an equivocal pronouncement. It is derived from the oracles at Delphi, priests or priestesses who claimed to transmit the voices of the gods. They protected their reputations by giving ambiguous advice. See also HMS Pinafore.

Bogies [Bogies spectacular]

Hobgoblins: persons or objects of terror (54). What some of us used to call “boogie men.”

Tetrapods [Tetrapods tragical]

Morningstar (216) explains that Gilbert was referring “to the tetrapody form of a logaoedic verse, a great favorite of Greek tragedians.” (Logaoedic means the verse is made up of long and short syllables in certain well-defined sequences.) A tetrapody is a verse of four metrical feet (6). (In poetic matters a “foot” is a patterned group of syllables.)

[Note: In some editions of the libretto the sequence of the last three items is reversed.]

[Note on sequence of terms] [Oracular, bogies, tetrapods]

In some editions of the libretto the sequence of the last three items is reversed.

Astronomical [Facts astronomical]

The word pertains to the study of the heavenly bodies. Asimov (11) believes that Gilbert really meant astrological, but needed a word to rhyme with comical. Asimov may be right. On the other hand might we not argue that Gilbert meant facts in large numbers?

Reflectors [And that, without reflectors]

This pertains to the mirrors often used in stage illusions.

Spectres [gaunt and grisly spectres]




Shrouds [He can fill you crowds of shrouds]

Interpret this as meaning he can provide you with many ghosts, each clothed in a burial wrap.

Rack [He can rack your brains]

To torture by stretching.