Glossary of Obscure Terms

Part of the fun of Gilbert and Sullivan is enjoying Gilbert's, rich, playful and obscure language from time to time. Here are a few terms you probably haven’t heard before.

 

Quarter-day

The days when rents were due, 4 times a year.

Dr. Watts

Isaac Watts who wrote some of the greatest English hymns, such as “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past.”

Trow Hope, believe. Also E. Price’s first name.

Sillery

A high-class champagne

Triolet

A verse of 8 lines with two rhymes- 1,4, & 7 and 2 & 8

Heigholet

A little sigh (Gilbert made this one up)

Helicon

A Greek mountain range, referring the Greek authors below

Anacreon, Ovid, Juvenal, Aristophanes

Greek authors noted for erotic works. A sly dig since Psyche then recommends they get them Bowdlerized

Bowdlerized

Cleansed of any offensive passages (Thomas Bowdler did this to Shakespeare in 1818)

Spring guns

Fixed guns set to fire when a trip-wire is triggered

Set the Thames on fire

Do something exciting

Trepan

Capture in a trap

Sunbeams from cucumbers

A task from Gulliver’s travels, that Gulliver was said to have spent 8 years on.

Sizars

Students who received the lodging in exchange for serving duties

Tufts

Tassels worn on the caps of peer’s sons at Oxford

Toilet club

A gentlemen’s barber

Etui

A needle case

Are men/stuck in her throat

A burlesque of Macbeth, where Macbeth says “I had most need of blessing and ‘Amen’ stuck in my throat.”

Chit

A youngster, usually a girl

Asphodel

Lillies

Paynim

Pagans or heathen- originally applied to the Saracens

Pop-in-jays

An old name for a parrot

Hurdy-gurds

Barrel organs and their players

Brassets

Armor for the upper arms (brassards)

Cuirass

Chest armor

“I quite forget their name”

The leg pieces are called greaves

Virago

A man-like or heroic woman

Termagant

A quarrelsome women