Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Yeomen of the Guard

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Act II

Ods bodikins

An oath; literally “God’s little body” (115).

Cloy [sweets that never cloy]

Become too much of a good thing. To induce loathing through overindulgence.

Mickle [’Tis but mickle Sister reaps!]

This old Scottish word means either large or small depending on the context. Its more correct interpretation is big or many; but it has been misused so often that you never know what to expect. In this case Gilbert certainly means to say “little.” See also Ruddigore.


Bringing to ruin.

Plague [What a plague art thou grizzling for now?]

Let’s interpret this as meaning, “Why the dickens are you grizzling?”


Complaining or whimpering.


A colloquialism for one who struts about.

An [what he’d do an he dared]

This is an archaic form of “if,” which appears regularly in old English literature, including Shakespeare (302).

Fallible [We are but fallible mortals]

Liable to error.

Ods bobs [Ods bobs, death o’ my life!]

“Reduction of and corruption of: ods bodkins, a jocular exclamation, is a late C. 19-20 perversion of ods bodikins, lit. God’s little body, a C. 17-19 oath” (233).

Cockatrice [thou kissing, clinging cockatrice]

“A fabulous animal represented as a cock with a dragon’s tail; a fabulous serpent imagined to possess the powers of the basilisk, whose glance deals death” (75). That’s not Phoebe. Try this: “A name of reproach for a woman” (228).

Chine [I’ll cleave thee to the chine]

The OED (228) defines the expression as meaning “I’ll break thy back.” Most of my knowing friends (none of whom is really bloodthirsty) are inclined to associate “cleave” with “meat cleaver” and so conjure up visions of gory work with a broadsword or battle-ax. Stedman (273) and Zavon (326) visualize the victim dropping in two pieces –– left and right –– from one mighty vertical blow, head to crotch. Prestige (243), Rees (251), and Knight (179) imagine Wilfred threatening a frontal slash, opening up the torso all the way to the backbone. Asimov (10), however, makes what I think is the best proposal: “To cleave to the chine is to cleave to the beginning of the backbone –– in other words to split the skull from top to bottom.” Any one of these definitions would produce the same end result: no long lingering death for the real Leonard Meryll, certainly nothing with either boiling oil or melted lead. “Cleave,” incidentally, also means to stick together –– as used in wedding ceremonies. We are sure that is not what Wilfred had in mind.

Sketch of Snug love in that middle-aged bosom

“A term of endearment” (75).

Votary [When love’s votary]

Devotee or worshiper.

Notary [Seeks the notary]

A notary public, usually a solicitor authorized to take affidavits, certify deeds, etc. In this case we suspect a marriage contract is implied. See also The Sorcerer and Cox and Box.

Polity [Joy and jollity then is polity]



Conduct or character befitting the devil (229).

Privity [Courting privity]

Privacy, seclusion, single bliss.


Downward slope.

Bowery [Bright and bowery]

Bower-like, sheltered and secure.

Harrying [Yields to harrying]

Harassing, i.e., proving a nuisance by repeated attacks.


“Pertaining to elegies, a set of verses in alternate hexameters and pentameters…” (177).

Tender [Tender his due to him]


Suppliant [A suppliant at thy feet]

One who asks humbly. See also Iolanthe.


Not debased, pure; like a well performed Savoy opera.