Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for HMS Pinafore

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Act I


One of those agile sailors sent aloft when work needs to be done high in the rigging (311). See drawing of nautical terms, Item No. 11. Massie (201) says these men, “had been picked for their quickness, agility, and courage and they had fierce pride in their ability and their ship’s standing.”

Hornpipe [Can you dance a hornpipe?]

A lively jiglike dance performed solo and traditionally favored by sailors. Its name was derived from a folk clarinet formed of two ox horns, one housing the reed and the other forming the bell (250). Kravetz (181, 182) says “When I was a lad” is actually composed in the form of such a dance, as is the fast section of “A British tar.”

MS. music

Music manuscript.

Grog [see that extra grog is served out]

Grog is rum thinned with cold water. Prestige (245) says the standard mix is one part rum, two parts water. The OED (229) traces the word back to an admiral named Vernon, who habitually wore a grogram (grosgrain) cloak. He was nicknamed Admiral Grogram. After he instituted the water-and-rum drink in the British Navy, his foreshortened name was applied to the drink. Knight (178) says before the admiral’s time the crew drank their allowance of brandy or rum clear. He adds that grog was abolished in 1970.

Ship’s company

The crew, not the visitors.

Seven bells

That could be at 3:30, 7:30, or 11:30, either AM or PM. It would occur half an hour before the changing of the watch.

Tack [You’re on a wrong tack]

Read: You’re headed in the wrong direction.

Messmates [Messmates, ahoy!]

The term “mess” can mean a space where meals are served on shipboard. Messmates refers to the group of seamen who eat together, thus implying social equality. See also Ruddigore.

Tar [A British tar is a soaring soul]

This is a slang term for a common sailor, sometimes in the form of Jack Tar. The OED (229) proposes that it derives from tarpaulin, (heavy canvas such as is used in sails). Indeed, in the 1600s a seafarer was at times referred to as a “tarpaulin” (115).

Furl [and his brow should furl]

Read: wrinkle.

Tang [the tang of a tyrant’s tongue]

The first meaning of tang is a strong taste or flavor. Another meaning pertains to a sharp projection on any sort of hardware. Let us interpret it here as a sharp, acidic tongue.

Antithetical [a combination of antithetical elements]

Directly opposed.

Cimmerean [the Cimmerean darkness of tangible despair]

Pronunciation: sih-MEER-ee-an

Homer told of the Cimmereans, who dwelt in a land “beyond the ocean stream,” where the sun never shone. In post-Homeric times the Cimmereans were an ancient people who lived on the shores of the Black Sea, from which comes the name (54).

Ganglion [I am but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms]

The OED (228) assures us that a ganglion is a tumor, or a knot on a nerve forming a center from which nerve fibers radiate, or a class of organs that includes the thymus gland, the thyroid body, and the adrenals. The Random House Dictionary (250) uses similar terms but adds “a center of intellectual or industrial force, activity, etc.” I have heard the word used as meaning a snarl. Several of my knowledgeable friends (265, 273, 289, 326) opine that Ralph’s nervous system was immobilized by conflicting signals into a quivering pulp. Prestige (243) on the other hand believes that Ralph was carried away and simply used an impressive-sounding word in the wrong place. Occam and I tend to support Prestige.

Jove’s armoury

Bolts of lightning, the favorite weapon of Jove, also known as Jupiter, the supreme deity in Roman mythology.

Adrift [cuts my hopes adrift]

Literally broken from moorings, out of control, and at the mercy of wind and tide.

Ensign [Has hung his ensign high above]

Pronunciation: En-sin

The literal meaning is the national flag displayed aboard a ship. The poetic meaning (which applies here) is that the sun (Apollo’s ensign) is high in the sky and shining away.

Roundelays [In dreamy roundelays]

Simple songs with recurring themes, often associated with circle dances.

Bated breath [With bated breath and muffled oar]

Bated is short for “abated.” With bated breath is defined as “breathing restricted from fear, etc.” (75). Shakespeare uses the expression in The Merchant of Venice.

Muffled oar

To ensure quiet rowing, with little splashing from the oars, oar blades may be wrapped (and so muffled) in cloth.

Act II

Regent [Bright regent of the heavens]

An acting ruler.

Sixes or sevens [why is everything either at sixes or at sevens?]

The origin of this phrase (more commonly “sixes and sevens”) is obscure. It applies to a state of confusion; or of persons, unable to come to an agreement. Brewer (55) says the phrase comes from dicing. Another explanation proposes that the term arose from the ranking in importance of medieval guilds in London. The tailors and the skinners had equal claims to sixth rank in annual processions. To compromise the conflict they agreed to switch sixth and seventh places each year. The expression has been found in literature dating about as far back as 1340 (115).

Court martial

In this case a gathering of naval officers convened for the trial of a person charged with violating naval law. (We think Sir Joseph is bluffing.)

Staunch [you are staunch to me]

Pronunciation: Rhymes with launch.

Firm, constant, loyal, true, and trustworthy –– like a Boy Scout.

Fain [I would fain see you smile]


Aloof [You hold aloof from me]

The term means to maintain a distance, and is derived from a nautical expression meaning to stay upwind (56).

Highlows [Highlows pass as patent leathers]

Highlows are variously described as high shoes reaching over the ankles, and as low boots. In the present context we can take them as being workaday shoes.

Jackdaws [Jackdaws strut in peacock feathers]

Walters (301), who is an ornithologist as well as a Savoyard, explains that jackdaw is “the English name for Corvus monedula, a small species of crow. The allusion is to Aesop’s fable of the jackdaw who dressed himself in peacock feathers to appear better than he really was, and was rejected both by his own kind and those whom he sought to emulate.”

Logs [Storks turn out to be but logs]

Brewer (54) reminds us that this alludes to Aesop’s fable of King Log and King Stork (1, 2). In the story, some frogs asked Jupiter to give them a king. Jupiter responded by throwing a log in the water. The frogs didn’t admire the log’s style and asked Jupiter for a more active leader. The replacement was a stork, who proceeded to eat his subjects. Moral: be satisfied with a passive ruler.

Bulls [Bulls are but inflated frogs]

This pertains to Aesop’s fable of the frog and the ox (8, 170). In the story a mother frog wants to impress her children by making herself as big as an ox that is grazing nearby. She puffs herself up beyond the bursting point, and the story comes to a sudden climactic and tragic denouement: Pop!