Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Sorcerer

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Act I

Gibberings [gibberings grim and ghastly]

Senseless chattering, like a lecture on medieval monetary practices in Faroffistan.

Organity [Changes organity, with an urbanity]

The OED (228) has it as “The condition of having organs, or being organic.” We presume in changing organity the resident Djinn is simply using his supernatural powers to assume a different form.


Refined elegance, savoir-faire.


Pertaining to Satan, who (according to Jewish and Christian beliefs) is the chief adversary of man, a.k.a. the devil.


A senseless frivolity.

Tautology [Barring tautology]

Needless repetition. “Posthumous shade” and “a panacea for every ill” are two handy examples.


The study of demons (evil spirits) or of beliefs about the same. Witchcraft would be an example.


I should have taken this to mean simply electro-biology had not Rees (251) called to my attention Merivale’s autobiography (213) in which electro-biology is described at some length. It was merely hypnotism under another name. The early practitioners seemingly believed that electricity was involved, hence the misleading terminology.

Nosology [Mystic nosology]

Study of diseases. Asimov (11) and Huston (158) suggest that mystic nosology may be the curing of illness through magic. Stedman (274) thinks it more likely that it pertains to curing illnesses that are caused by magic.

Philology [Spirit philology]

Study of language and the origin of words.

Puffing [We are not in the habit of puffing our goods]

Exaggerating the worth.

Philanthropical [purely philanthropical motives]

Pertaining to love of mankind shown through generous deeds. A thousand-dollar gift to your local Gilbert & Sullivan troupe would be a good example. Make that annual.

Wood [we should strongly advise your taking it in the wood]

Buying it by the barrel.

Pipes [pipes and hogsheads for laying down]

Wine containers, generally of 126 U.S.-gallon capacity.


These are wooden barrels of 63 U.S.-gallon capacity.

Laying down

Storing for future use. This entry and the three preceding it are common terms in the wine wholesaling business.

Army and Navy Stores

Rees (251) explains that this is “A very smart emporium on Victoria Street. It is still there. Anyone might shop there, but officers could become members and obtain discount.” For further details see Goodman (140).

Carouse [to carouse in a few minutes]

To revel. Although we normally associate the word with excessive drinking, the villagers presumably expect to sip nothing stronger than tea.


A set of charm words that, when spoken at the right time (usually midnight) in the right place (a graveyard will do nicely), and in the right tone of voice (funereal preferred), will perhaps cast a magic spell, call up one or more demons, or otherwise produce supernatural effects and scare you half to death. Gilbert was presumably well acquainted with the impressive incantation scene in von Weber’s grand opera Der Freischütz.

Sprites [Sprites of earth and air]

The sprites of earth were goblins, those of air were sylphs.

Shoals [Come here in shoals]


Noisome [Noisome hags of night]

Offensively disgusting and disgustingly offensive. They smell awful, too. Ugh.


Witches or sorceresses (56), but not to be confused with that mechanical hag from the Abudah chest.

Imps [Imps of deadly shade]

Miniature devils or demons.

Pallid [Pallid ghosts]


Shell [echoed in every shell]

Every sea shell.

Fell [Ye demons, fell, with yelp and yell]


Set us free –– our work is done

Knight (178) explains that spirits may be set free after performing important tasks for their master.

Mustard and cress [Now for the mustard and cress]

These are tender sprouts grown from mustard and cress seeds, served together as a garnish or salad.

Rollicking [the rollicking bun]

Jovial, care free, and high spirited. A rollicking bun is one accompanied by generous quantities of strong waters. In real life Gilbert is said to have confided to George Grosssmith (the fellow who created most of the comic baritone parts): “If you promise me faithfully not to mention this to a single person, not even your dearest friend, I don’t think Shakespeare rollicking” (240). See also The Pirates of Penzance and Patience.