Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Mikado

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Act I

Happy Dispatch
Sketch of The Happy Dispatch

A euphemism for Hara-Kiri, from hara meaning "belly" and kiri, meaning "cut." It refers to suicide by disembowelment as formerly practiced, with due ceremony, by the highest classes in Japan when in disgrace. Knight (178) adds that the suicide's family was also required to die with him unless a special writ was obtained from the emperor. The practice went out in the late 1800s.

Fighting cock [You'll live like a fighting cock]

Brewer (56) says this means to "have a profusion of the best food" so as to increase endurance and pugnacity. (Cock fighting is still a popular activity in many rural communities throughout the world.)

Distracted [Yum-Yum distracted]

Frantically unhappy.

Line [If you can draw the line]

A firm and precise limit. The stage direction "Preparing rope" gives visual emphasis to the pun.

Hear, Hear, Hear!

English expression of approval. See also The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, and The Zoo.

Eventime [Life's eventime comes much too soon]

This is apparently Gilbert's made-up contraction of evening time. He could as well have used the established word eventide, which means the same thing. Metaphorically speaking, he is referring to late middle age.


A compliment or salute directed toward some person or cause. The word supposedly came from the ancient custom of floating a piece of toast in the drink hoisted during the speech (55).

Three times three

Brewer (56) has good deal to say about the number three. As a start it is associated with many pertinent matters in classical beliefs. The world was under the control of three gods: Jupiter (heavens), Neptune (sea) and Pluto (underworld). Jupiter is represented with three-pronged lightning, Neptune with a trident, and Pluto with a three-headed dog. There were three Fates, three Harpies, three Graces, and three Furies. In Christianity we find the Holy Trinity, and the three graces: faith, hope and charity. Going one step beyond, as Pooh-Bah has done, we multiply the potency of the number by multiplying it by itself, producing a trinity of trinities. Brewer lists many expressions using the number nine, ranging from cats with nine lives to the nine muses. He mentions that the cat-o'-nine tails was considered best for punishing evil-doers; being a trinity of trinities, it would be "both more sacred and more efficacious." Finally, he mentions that "We drink a Three-times-three to those most highly honored."

Blight [Rain blight on our festivities]

Ruin or frustration.

Perjured [I claim my perjured lover]

Guilty of violating an oath.

Cloy [delights that never cloy]

Grow tiresome.

Fleest [Oh fool, that fleest my hallowed joys]

Pronunciation: FLEE-est



Archaic form of hallow, meaning sacred. "Hallowed joys" presumably means wedded bliss.

Equipoise [Oh blind, that seest no equipoise]

A counter-balancing factor, e.g., a fascinating right elbow to offset a caricature of a face. In his children's book (133) Gilbert adds this footnote: "I fancy that she meant by this that Nanki-Poo was so short-sighted as not to perceive that her moral and social qualities were an adequate compensation for the drawbacks of advanced age and damaged personal appearance. But when people lapse into poetry you never can be sure what they mean." Anyone who aspires to publish a G&S lexicon will particularly appreciate that last sentence.

Judgest, grudgest, etc.

Presumably pseudo-archaic forms of judges and grudges (or begrudges). The same for rulest, foolest, scornest, and warnest in Katisha's second verse.

Dole [Love's lightest dole]

An allocation.

Lore-laden years

Years spent in soaking up knowledge.

Smooth tongue


Knell [Thy knell is rung]

Slow tolling of a bell to signal a death. Katisha, we hope, does not mean this to be taken literally. Or does she? Prestige (245) thinks so.

Rue [this insult you shall rue!]


Sue [on your knees you'll sue]

Make an appeal.

O ni! bikkuri shakkuri to!

This is the chorus's uproar for drowning out Katisha's exposé. Many authorities (21, 145, 147, 149, 157, 209, 210, 286) have proposed translations, but there emerges no consensus. As for Gilbert, he says only that it is a humorous song (133), and that ought to be good enough for us.

Gambado [I'll spoil -- your gay gambado]

Pronunciation: Rhymes with Mikado.

The OED (229) defines this as, among other things, any sudden or fantastic action.

Oya! oya!

Meaningless filler words for the final repetition of O ni! bikkuri shakkuri to!

Owl [Ill-omened owl]

As one definition of the word, the OED (229) gives us: "Applied to a person in allusion to … figurative repugnance of light." In a single word, Karr (170) suggests "baleful." Walters (301) tells us "the owl was traditionally a bird of ill omen and its appearance was supposed to herald a great tragedy."

Act II

Bridal toilet [seated at her bridal toilet]

The act of dressing and last-minute titivating in readiness for a wedding. (Perhaps you should know that the original meaning of "toilet" was a dressing table.)

Raven [Braid the raven hair]

Glossy black.

Deck [Deck the maiden fair]


Coral [Dye the coral lip]


Roe [Like a frightened roe]

A small, agile Old World deer (250).