Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Princess Ida

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

Act II

Chaos [let Chaos come again!]

Everyone knows that chaos with a lower case c means utter confusion. With an upper case C, however, it refers to the state of the universe before the creation, when it was even more disorganized than it is today.

Abstract Philosophy [I, madam, on Abstract Philosophy]

Theoretical approaches to the search for truth.

Hypotheses [Given these three hypotheses]

Alternative assumptions or propositions.


The person named remains on stage. Latin for "He (or she) remains" (66). Manent applies to more than one person.

Coronal [Time weaves my coronal]


Ween [Yet humble second shall be first, I ween]

I fancy.

Paling [Fence and paling]

Picket fence.

Bull-dogs [That bull-dogs feed on throttles]

Jumping ahead for a moment, throttle, as defined in the OED (229) means throat. This naturally leads one to interpret bulldogs as meaning pugnacious bowlegged dogs. Knight (177), however, believes that Gilbert meant horseflies. But, wait! There is another candidate. Brewer (54) says that at Oxford and Cambridge the official in charge of discipline was protected by two intimidating attendants called bulldogs. This leads Stone (283) to propose that as Gilbert's intent. Knight and Stone are welcome to their views, and so are you, but my vote is with the canines.


As mentioned above: throats (targets most tempting to any self-respecting dog).

Broken bottles [broken bottles on a wall]

Refers to the practice of cementing pieces of broken glass on top of walls to discourage would-be intruders from climbing over.

Spring-guns [spring-guns breathe defiance]

These are guns that are fixed to fire when a person, or animal, comes in contact with a wire attached to the trigger.

Lay a crown

To wager a five-shilling coin. (Under the former British coinage system, the pound sterling was worth twenty shillings.) A crown, then, would be worth a quarter of a pound.

Wire [intend to send a wire]

Telegram. Alternatively, Dorsey (260) and Kravetz (181) suggest that they mean to extend a wire to the moon. Hilarion's source of information, being ambiguous, leaves the matter unsettled, alas.

Set the Thames on fire

Pronunciation: Thames rhymes with hems, but don't ask why.

This is an old expression for the impossible (115). Brewer (56) reveals that "He'll never set the Thames on Fire" was an old expression meaning he'll never amount to much.

Rigs [Then they learn to make silk purses with their rigs]

You wouldn't believe all the meanings conveyed by this word. Asimov (11) makes this reasonable surmise as to Gilbert's intent: "Among other things, a 'rig' refers to a woman's outfit. [Perhaps Gilbert] is referring to a woman's sewing equipment, which is so much a part of her as to be considered an item of her total dress." Bradshaw (51), Karr (171), and Kesilman (174) all endorse this. Other equally valid interpretations are "devices" and "tricks." Brewer (56), for example defines "Run a Rig" as playing a trick.

Circe's [Lady Circe's piggy-wigs]

Pronunciation: SIR-sees.

Circe was the enchantress who turned the companions of Odysseus into swine.

Trepan [And weasels at their slumbers they trepan]

An obsolete meaning of the word is to entrap (115, 228), which seems more believable than boring holes in their sleepy little skulls. Brewer (54) explains the saying "to catch a weasel asleep" means to deceive a vigilant person or catch him napping.

Sunbeams from cucumbers

Brewer (54) reminds us of the grand academy at Lagoda (in Gulliver's Travels), where the scholars pursue research projects such as making pincushions out of soft stones and extracting sunbeams from cucumbers. The intent was to seal the sunbeams in phials and to release them later during inclement weather (177). And that reminds us of Samuel Johnson's advice about cucumbers: "A cucumber should be well sliced and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out as good for nothing" (113).

Perpetual Motion

The continuous action of a machine apart from any new external supply of energy.

Phenomena [These are the phenomena]

The plural of phenomenon, meaning anything (or anybody) encountered, especially if marked by unusual attributes. As used later in reference to Lady Psyche, it means a prodigy.

Domina [That every pretty domina]

This is the feminine equivalent of the Oxford dons or doms, a contraction of the Latin dominus, fellows or tutors.

Circle [the circle-- they will square it]

Refers to the insoluble problem of geometrically constructing a square with area equal to that of a given circle.

The little pigs, they're teaching for to fly

When pigs fly is a colloquial expression for "never" (115).

Flout [They mock at him and flout him]

To show contempt or scorn.

Going to do without him

The phrase is in quotation marks because it was taken from a catch phrase (regarding doing without women) made popular in British music halls by Arthur Roberts in 1882 (237).


To enroll as a student.

Penitent [and penitent for deeds]


Askance [Looked at askance]

With suspicion.

Shades [Seek sanctuary in these classic shades!]

Sheltered academic retreats.

Innately [with a heart innately]

Pertaining to natural or inborn characteristics.