Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for Ruddigore

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

Act I

Bites his bread

In those days a refined person would not be caught picking up a slice of bread and biting off a chunk. No. One was expected to break off a wee bit and pop it into one's mouth in an inconspicuous manner.

Marquis [He combines the manners of a Marquis with the morals of a Methodist.]

Pronunciation: MAR-kwis

Sketch of Manners and morals

In Britain, a marquis is a nobleman ranking next below a duke. This assessment of Robin is something of a switch from what Samuel Johnson (45) had to say about Lord Chesterfield's Letters to his natural son: "They teach the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master."

Hallowed [the hallowed name of Robin]

Past participle of hallow, meaning sacred.

Passing [It is passing fine]

The term is ambiguous. It can mean passably (i.e., moderately), or surpassingly. Take your pick. See also entry for "Passing fair" in Trial By Jury.

Fain [I would fain consult you]

Like to.

Ban [the ban that compels all who succeed to the baronetcy]


Tom-Tit [his ship the Tom-Tit]
Sketch of the Tom-Tit

A small bird of the tit family, possibly a blue tit (something like a chickadee). As in H.M.S. Pinafore, Gilbert is deriving fun from the British Navy's inclination toward giving their fighting ships awe-inspiring names. Nelson's fleet at the battle of the Nile, for example, included ships named Goliath, Audacious, Minotaur, Theseus, and Majestic. More fun is derived from the reminder of Ko-Ko's pathetic little bird.

Welkin [Let the welkin ring]


Shipped [I shipped, d'ye see, in a Revenue sloop]

Sailed as a member of the crew.

Revenue sloop

A patrol boat that cruises along the coast to discourage smugglers who are intent upon evading customs and excise duties (taxes).

Cape Finistere

There is a Cape Finisterre at the northwest corner of Spain, and that is probably what Gilbert had in mind (11, 147, 48). McElroy (209) has argued that it seems more likely that Richard is referring to Finistère, the westernmost department (political division) of France's Breton peninsula. One would think that to be a more logical place for a British revenue sloop to be cruising and for a French frigate to be encountered. In fact, however, around 1800 the area off the Spanish headland was frequently patrolled by British warships, both large and small. They were there to defend against French and Spanish privateers lying in wait for British merchant ships trading to nearby Porto, a busy port in Portugal to which British ships carried fish and grain from North America and carried away wine for England (36, 85).

Going free [A Frenchman going free]

Sailing downwind.

Mounseer [the bold Mounseer]

A colloquial term for a Frenchman, derived from a poor pronunciation of monsieur (mister). Derrick McClure (260) says, "Dick [Dauntless], by his speech seems to combine a lack of education with a superabundance of native wit! And the result is a comic character out of Gilbert's very top drawer." Well spoke, messmate!

Frigate [But she proved to be a Frigate]
Drawing of a Frigate

A relatively fast naval craft of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, ship-rigged and armed on one or two decks. By "ship-rigged" we mean that the ship had three masts all fitted with square sails. Frigates were generally faster than ships of the line, but more lightly armed. One could easily overwhelm a revenue sloop.

Ports [and she up with her ports]

The expression means that the other ship opened the hinged covers over the gun ports -- those being the little square apertures in the ship's side out of which they poked the cannon. See drawing of nautical terms in HMS Pinafore, Item No. 12.

Thirty-two [And fires with a thirty-two]

A cannon that fires a 32-pound cannon ball.


A slang term for a Frenchman, derived from the early French lesson's Parlez-vous français? (Do you speak French?)

Sartin [She is sartin for to strike]



Strike her colors, i.e., haul down her flag, i.e., surrender.

Fal-lal [to fight a French fal-lal]

A derisive term implying affectation in dress and manner (177).

Lubberly [It's a lubberly thing for to do]

Lubber is seagoing parlance for a clumsy or inexperienced sailor. Here it means something unworthy of gallant seamen. Relates to landlubber, and looby, a heavy, clumsy fellow.

Helm [So we up with our helm]

When you "up the helm" you move the tiller up wind, which turns the bow of the ship away from the wind so she scuds. See next entry.

Scuds [we scuds before the breeze]

Sail down wind -- usually at a good speed.

Froggee [Froggee answers with a shout]

Derisive term for a Frenchman, derived from the popular impression of the Gallic fondness for frogs' legs. Brewer (55) offers another explanation, which is that an ancient French heraldic device consisted of three frogs or toads, which eventually developed into the now-familiar fleur-de-lis. Quite an improvement.

Sketch of a Hornpipe

A vigorous solo dance once popular among sailors.

Jawin' tackle [I'll just stow my jawin' tackle and belay]

This means he will stop talking. {As expounded upon in our chapter for H.M.S. Pinafore, a sailor would probably pronounce the second word as TAY-kill; but there is less reason for it in this context, and the meaning might be more obvious if it were spoken in the usual lubberly way: TACK-ill.}


Make fast or stop.

’Vast heavin’ [But ‘vast heavin’, messmate]

Stop sighing. ‘Vast is short for “avast,” which is a seaman’s way of saying “Stop!” The word is thought to come from the Dutch houd vast: hold fast (290).


Strictly speaking a messmate is another sailor who eats alongside the speaker. In this case, however, it simply implies close friendship. See also HMS Pinafore.

A-cockbill [What's brought you all a-cockbill?]

Out of sorts. There are two explanations of this term. One relates to the condition of an old fashioned stock anchor when it turns on its side and does not dig into the mud as it should. The other relates to the old custom of tipping a ship's yard (i.e., a spar at the top of a sail) out of its usual horizontal position as a sign of sorrow, particularly when the ship was about to be scrapped.