Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Sorcerer

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

Act I

Sally Lunn

A plain, light tea-cake, which is split, toasted, buttered, and served usually with jam. Named after a late-eighteenth century street vendor in Bath. If you want the recipe, see Applegate’s mouth-watering opus (9). Papa (232) reports that close cousins of Sally Lunns are sold in New Orleans, where they are known as pain à la vielle tante.

Brindisi [Tea-cup brindisi]

Pronunciation: BRINN-dee-zee

A toast, from the Italian word for the same. Every Italian opera had to have its drinking song –– but none, we vouch, with tea. Perhaps the most rousing brindisi of all is the one in Verdi’s La Traviata, first produced in 1853. Rees (254) reports that Verdi’s opera was on the boards in London at the time The Sorcerer was produced, so it was surely well known to many in the Savoy audiences. See also The Grand Duke.

I will go bail for the liquor

Read: I will guarantee the quality of the tea. See also Princess Ida, The Mikado, and Utopia, Limited.

Jorum [At brewing a jorum of tea]

A jorum is generally taken to mean a large punch bowl or at least a large portion of liquor (66). “A jorum of tea” is a typical Gilbertian twist, an oxymoron. The roots of jorum are uncertain but it may derive from the Biblical Jeroboam, “a mighty man of valour … who made Israel to sin” (54). This led somehow to jeroboam, meaning a large bowl, or goblet, or wine bottle. Those of you who take your drinking seriously can probably work thish into a convershayshun.

Caddy [tea-pot, kettle, caddy, and cosy]

A caddy is a box, often ornamental, containing canisters of tea. Stedman (273) explains that caddies were generally kept locked so that only the mistress of the household had access to the precious leaves. Bosdêt (43) says the word is derived from kati a Malaysian unit of weight somewhat over a pound. The term came to be applied to the special airtight tin boxes sized to hold that amount of tea, which were used to ship the leaves to England.


A cloth jacket for keeping a teapot warm. Often called a tea cosy.

Plot [Toil, sorrow, and plot]


Three spoons to the pot

The normal allotment of tea is one spoonful per person to be served, “plus one spoon to the pot.” A generous allotment would allow two spoons to the pot. Dr. Daly, however, tends to get carried away; he tosses in three spoonfuls. This is really living! (And it’s someone else’s tea.)


An addition to a material reducing its purity.

Tillage [Peace-bearing tillage]

The normal meaning has to do with cultivation of the land. We can interpret it as the figurative land that is ploughed, i.e., tilled (276), to produce a harvest of love.

Garner [Great garner of bliss]

A storehouse.

Act II

Dark lantern

A lantern with a sliding shutter for confining the emission of light. The burglar’s trademark. The term also appears in The Pirates of Penzance.

Manifest [manifest its power]

To reveal, to make plain.

Meet [I did not think it meet]


Pedigree [A dame of lengthy pedigree]

Line of ancestors.


Knight Commander of the Bath: an order of chivalry. Bathing is thought to have been part of a purification ritual introduced in the eleventh century (225). Bradley (47) notes that this is but one of three classes within the Order of the Bath, this being the middle one. Ranking above it is the Grand Cross of the Bath (G.C.B.), and below it the Companion of the Bath (C.B.). [See entries for the same term in HMS Pinafore and Utopia, Limited.]

Doctor of Divinity

A person who has received the highest educational degree in theology. See also The Pirates of Penzance.

Q.C. [And that respectable Q.C.]

The initials stand for Queen’s Counsel: “a barrister of seniority and experience who has been granted this title in recognition of eminence in the law. The colloquial phrase of becoming a Q.C. is ‘to take the silk,’ because a barrister who is a Q.C. wears a silk gown, whereas other barristers wear a ‘stuff’ gown” (244). On their appointment they are called “within the bar” and thereafter sit on the front row of the court, which is separated from other advocate rows by a wooden bar in the older courts (142). When a queen is replaced by a king, all those Q.C.’s become K.C.’s (257).

Shepherd (263) notes that in this opera the Q.C. title apparently belongs to the notary, which seems strange because notaries are of a separate profession. Donkin (257) explains that some barristers are also notaries, and even one who was a Q.C. would be honored to officiate at a betrothal ceremony uniting the parish’s two foremost families. Burgess (60) hypothesizes that Mr Wells is using the term ironically.

Al-fresco-ly [All fast asleep, al-fresco-ly]

Outdoors. Al fresco is Italian for “in the cool.”



Where be oi, and what be oi a doin’

Bradley (48) states that these accents imply that Ploverleigh is located in the western part of England, probably in Dorset (a.k.a. Dorsetshire) not far from the Devon border. (See map.) On the other hand, Joseph (166) thinks those accents more indicative of Somerset (just north of Dorset). He points out, too, that Wellington and Wells are two small towns in Somerset. Walters (302) would settle for “Mummerset,” a term for an unspecified western region.

Guineas [I’ve guineas not a few for you]

A monetary unit equal to £1.05 (i.e., one pound, one shilling). In this case read: I’ve plenty of money for you. The coin was last issued in 1813, but the term remained in general use long thereafter. It took its name from the African country that was its source of gold. See also Patience and Princess Ida.

Nectar [My cup is not of nectar]

In Greek mythology, the drink of the gods.

Rector [Our kind and reverend rector]

A Church of England clergyman in charge of ecclesiastical affairs of a parish. Constance may be using the term loosely as a favor to Gilbert who wanted a rhyme for nectar. Dr. Daly is clearly the Vicar of Ploverleigh. A Rector holds the equivalent position and authority, but there is a significant difference in the way their incomes are handled (75). Walters (302) says the terms are interchangeable in today’s common parlance.

Snuffy [He’s dry and snuffy]

This may mean soiled with grains of snuff or (colloquially) irritable and cross (75). It may also mean tipsy (115). In the context I should vote for the first interpretation. If he is dry can he also be tipsy? In the next line he is called ill-tempered, so irritable and cross would be wasted.

Blind young boy

The context clearly implies Cupid (Eros), who is referred to by Shakespeare as “This wimpled, whining, purblind, wayward boy,” “The blind bow-boy,” and “Her [i.e., Venus’s] purblind son and heir, Young Adam Cupid” (82). Shakespeare is also quoted as saying, “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”

Vaunted [thy vaunted love]


Solaced [not unlikely to be solaced]

Comforted and cheered.


West country language for “everything.”

Estimable [your estimable father]

Worthy of admiration.