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 II

Fates [See how the Fates their gifts allot]

In classical mythology the three goddesses who were supposed to preside over the course of human life. One held the distaff and fibers, from which the second spun the thread of life, and the third cut the thread when life ended.


Teasing in a good-natured way.

Nectar [Nectar quaffing]

In classical mythology the life-giving drink of the gods.


To drink heartily, copiously, and without reserve. Urp!

Fortune [If I were Fortune]

Fortuna, the ancient Roman goddess of luck.

Corroborative [Merely corroborative detail]

Confirming or certifying.

Verisimilitude [artistic verisimilitude]

The appearance of truth.

Cock-and-a-bull stories

Unbelievable boastful fictions. The origin of the term is uncertain, but Knight (178) cites a tale by one L. Fisher from 1660 in which is mentioned a tale as strange as a cock and a bull transformed into a single animal. For more details see the entry for "Cock and bull" in The Yeomen of the Guard.

Put in your oar

To meddle or interfere in other people's business. The expression dates back at least to the sixteenth century (115).

Reprieved [you're reprieved]

Legally cleared and out of trouble.


Surely you all know what this means; but there's a nice story that goes with its derivation. It means literally "honey-month." It seems the ancient Teutons had the custom of drinking honey wine for thirty days after their marriage. Moreover, you may also be interested to learn that Attila the Hun drank so much of the stuff at his wedding feast that he died. Let that be a lesson to you.

Persiflage [Is this a time for airy persiflage?]

Banter. Shipley (266) says the word derives from the French persifler, to whistle.


Expert judges, especially in the fine arts.

Pin my heart

The allusion is to the chivalric custom of pinning to one's sleeve some token given by one's lady love. This was indicative of a pledge to do or die (55).

Caricature [with a caricature of a face]

Pronunciation: CARE-ik-ahchir suits the score.



A tomb, a grave, or burial vault.


Originally the word meant "false believer." Now we apply it to any vile and unprincipled wretch; one who sneers at the Savoy operas.

Suppliant [behold a suppliant at your feet!]

A humble petitioner.

Palate [only the educated palate]

Literally the roof of the mouth. The meaning here is in the figurative sense of intellectual taste or liking.


A bird of the tit family, all being cute little chickadee-like rascals. Brewer (56) and the noted ornithologist Michael Walters (302) both agree that Tom implies not male, but small, as in Tom Thumb. This being so, was Gilbert careless when referring to "a little tom-tit"? In any event, the context clearly implies a small male bird.

Willow [Willow, titwillow, titwillow]

The willow tree has long been associated with sadness. Remember "I'll hang my harp on a weeping willow tree"? Then in Othello, Desdemona sings a song that ends thus: "Her salt tears fell from her, and soften'd the stones; Sing willow, willow, willow" (54). Sullivan also set her words to music (163). See also Patience.


Any small bird.

Callous [if you remain callous and obdurate]




Congo [From the Congo or the Niger]

The general region of central and west Africa (now largely the nation calling itself the Democratic Republic of Congo) drained by what was then called the Congo River.


The general region of northwest Africa drained by the Niger River. Many critics have complained that tigers are not native to the Congo, Niger, or any other regions of Africa. Not only that, but Niger does not rhyme with tiger. Ko-Ko's education (a drop-out Ph.D. in tailoring) obviously was not of the highest order. Gilbert, presumably, was only kidding.

Derry down derry

A meaningless expression often used as a filler line in folk songs.


An official whose duty it is to keep a record of official transactions. He is also licensed to perform civil marriages (245).

Told off [told off to be killed]

Hyder (161) points out that the expression means counted off, "as one would pick a man out of a rank of soldiers for some unpleasant duty." I suppose that would be used in place of the less dignified "Eeny meeny miny mo … " The roots of the term also explain why bank clerks are called "tellers." I knew you'd like to know.