Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Mikado

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

Act I


Pertains to the substance from which all plant and animal life are formed. Bradley (48) reminds us that when the opera was written Darwin's theory of evolution was still relatively new and, whereas traditionalists argued that Darwin was demeaning mankind, Gilbert turns the debate around and shows that Pooh-Bah takes great pride in his family tree that extends back even beyond 1066.


Original form of any matter.


A small sphere of matter.

Lord Chief Justice

Title given to heads of the courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas. Now given to the President of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court (141). Note that the term "Chief" in the title implies the position of presiding officer in a court of several judges (75).

[Note: For authoritative explanations of all Gilbert's legal and political terms you cannot do better than refer to Goodman (141).]


Top officer in the army.

Lord High Admiral

Top officer in the navy.

Master of the Buckhounds

Person in charge of the monarch's hunting dogs.

Groom of the Back Stairs

The term "groom" is not confined to a servant who takes care of horses. He may also be a household officer. Back stairs allow servants to go from floor to floor without disturbing the upper class inhabitants or their guests. A "Groom of the Back Stairs" is mentioned in Vanity Fair (287). Paget (230) says that until late in the eighteenth century English royal palaces had special "back stairs" guards. These discreet Yeomen of the Guard, on "back stairs duty," admitted private visitors to the monarch. The visitors, whether ministers or mistresses, entered the palace through an inconspicuous door and mounted the back stairs. This is the source of the phrase "back stairs influence." Isn't it delightful what titillating gems one can pick up in a lexicon? Incidentally, for what it's worth, a 1991 newspaper article (13) mentions a Page of the Back Stairs then currently employed in Buckingham Palace.

Archbishop of Titipu

The chief bishop in the region of Titipu. You may be sure that is an imaginary position.

Lord Mayor

The civic head of the town.

Minion [I a salaried minion!]

A common servant. See also Thespis, Ruddigore, and The Zoo.

Go to [Likewise go to]

Go-To the character has already been presented under "Characters." Here we find the expression in the form of an admonition to give up hope and depart.

Ablutioner [You very imperfect ablutioner]

Pooh-Bah seems to imply that Nanki-Poo needs a bath, which at first seems out of character for a G&S tenor. But remember that he has been traveling for a month, or nearly, and without so much as a pocket handkerchief to mop his brow or dust his sandals. Then, too, there are just so many words that rhyme with executioner.

Cut a dash

Put on a showy display (115).


A colloquialism for "stroll." See also The Gondoliers.


One who reduces something -- or somebody. Another Gilbertian creation.


To yield, or bow, or both.

Recognizances [Liberated then on bail, on my own recognizances]

A contract entered into with a court by which a person pledges himself, without the posting of any bond, to appear at his trial when summoned (178).

Up in dates

This refers to little terrors who have memorized a bunch of historic dates and can't wait to prove they know more than you. Psyche, in Princess Ida, had been such an obnoxious little exhibitionist at an early age.


Noxious and vexing.


Pronunciation: TET-ah-TETs

French for "head-to-head," implying a confidential, perhaps romantic, conversation. See also Utopia, Limited.


One who earns a living by traveling around the streets of a city with a decibelious music-making contraption called a piano-organ. Some people toss coins in his hat hoping he will play more, others hoping he will go far away. The piano-organ takes its name from the barrel organ, which it resembles. Both are mechanical contrivances actuated like oversize music boxes; i.e., they have a large revolving cylinder, or barrel, studded with metal pins that trigger the tone-generating elements. The barrel-organist (a past master of that delicately modulated instrument) is required to turn the handle that turns the barrel. See entry for "Organ boys" in Princess Ida.

Provinces [the lady from the provinces]

To a Londoner "the provinces" means anywhere in the United Kingdom outside Greater London.

Guy [who dresses like a guy]

This refers to the effigies of Guy Fawkes that are burned each November 5 in Britain to celebrate his lack of success in blowing up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 (54, 115, 257). Stedman (273) notes that the phrase "was also current in Gilbert's day as meaning someone grotesque or ridiculously dressed -- in this case the lady dresses inappropriately in attempting to look fashionable." Bradshaw (51) assures us the expression is still in use in England. Some observers think Gilbert had in mind the American slang term for a man. The term was in those days not well known in England (115), so I doubt the validity of the proposal.

Anomaly [That singular anomaly]

Something, or someone odd, strange, peculiar, abnormal, or downright weird. From Latin and Greek for "irregular."

Nisi Prius [that Nisi Prius nuisance]

Pronunciation: Nigh-sigh PRY-us

The literal meaning is "unless before," and was applied to cases that formerly were brought before local assize courts when, technically, they should have been heard in London. Actions such as these were entered for hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice unless heard before (48, 178). (Assizes were periodic courts held in the provinces and presided over by London judges on circuit) (75). McElroy (209) adds that Gilbert, knowing both law and wit, must have taken a wry view of certain judges who were wont to substitute poor wit for real law. Gilbert had had his share of being part of a captive audience.

[Note: Latin teachers and other purists question the pronunciation shown above, but that is how it was traditionally sung by D'Oyly Carte performers, and is presumably how Gilbert wanted it (260).]

Lord Chamberlain

The manager of the officers and servants of the king's household. He was in Gilbert's day responsible for licensing stage performances and was, in effect, the official censor. Thus, a few minutes later when Ko-Ko wants to kiss Yum-Yum and she demurs, Ko-Ko appeals to Pooh-Bah (as Lord Chamberlain) for approval. Hyder (161) observes that Gilbert here is "stepping out of the proscenium and winking at the audience." See also The Gondoliers and Utopia, Limited.


The chief legal officer of the Crown in England (75).

Chancellor of the Exchequer

British minister of finance.

Privy Purse

The Keeper of the Privy Purse is an officer of the British royal household who is in charge of the payment of the sovereign's expenses, including all the principal charities. Dunn (100) expresses doubt that Pooh-Bah could have held such a position because he was, after all, only a local official. Dunn forgets the all-too-apparent possibility that Pooh-Bah was also the Supreme Appointer to Exalted Stations.