The Mikado

Act I

Town of Titipu – Actually, such a town exists (now the cement capital of Japan). It is a few hours northwest of Tokyo by train.

Serried ranks assembled – shoulder to shoulder

We’ll heave the capstan round – a manually operated reel for hauling in ropes aboard a ship (usually the anchor)

Her anchor’s a-trip and her helm’s a-lee – A-trip means clear of mud and ready to be hauled aboard. A-lee means away from the wind; ready for making sail.

and a rumbelow – nonsense word used in many sea-chanties

to lay aloft – to climb up into the rigging in order to raise or lower sails.

unless connubially linked – matrimonially (i.e., unless married)

Pre-Adamite ancestry – before Adam (and Eve)

I, a salaried minion! – servile underling

you very imperfect ablutioner – The implication is that the person addressed has not done a good job of washing himself (Okay, it does rhyme with “executioner”).

cut a dash on their wedding day – put on a showy display, to dance

she’ll toddle away, as all aver – declare

who dresses like a guy – Effigies of “gunpowder-plot” conspirator Guy Fawkes are burned each November 5; they are dressed in old clothes (like a scarecrow), i.e. bizarrely.

I don’t say that all these distinguished people couldn’t be squared – bribed

freed from its genius tutelary – guardian spirit, guiding influence

the Marine Parade – sea-side promenade, analogous to “the boardwalk” in America

Tremendous Swell – a very impressively distinguished person, a VIP

my father, the Lucius Junius Brutus of his race – A Roman consul (500 B.C.) who condemned his two sons to death, for their plotting to restore the monarchy

to embrace you thus con fuoco – Italian for “with fervor”

would distinctly be no gioco – Italian for game or joke

and for yam I should get toco – “Toco” is schoolboy slang for punishment; “toco for yam” is an expression meaning getting something bad in exchange for something good.

interrupted an apostrophe – an exclamatory address to a person or thing

with grief condign – suitable

in a dull, dark dock – small enclosed space, or cell (originally, an animal cage)

a cheap and chippy chopper – the headsman’s axe, apparently not of the best quality

perform the Happy Dispatch – suicide

Oh blind, that seest no equipoise – counterbalancing factor

O ni! bikkuri shakkuri to! – This choral outburst’s literal translation from the Japanese is, “Oh two, surprise, hiccup door!”  A freer interpretation of the line’s intent, however, might render it as “Demon, you surprise and shock us!” or “Oh, we are surprised, are we not!?”

I’ll spoil your gay gambado – caper, from the French gambade, a leap or spring

Act II

He glories all effulgent – Giving off a flood of light

though the tocsin sound ere long – a warning bell

I never even killed a blue-bottle – a large fly

Miya sama, miya sama / On n’m-ma no mayé ni / Pira-Pira suru no wa / Nan gia na / Toko tonyaré tonyaré na? – This is the first verse of an actual Japanese song and was of fairly recent composition when Gilbert appropriated it for The Mikado.  A war song of the Japanese Imperial Army, it was sung by the loyalist troops who put down a rebellion in 1877.  Translations vary, but it can be understood as, “Oh noble Prince, what is that thing which is fluttering in front of your Highness’s horse?”  The second verse of the song answers the question with another question, “Know you not it is the Imperial banner of silken brocade, the sign of punishment for rebels?”

Make each prisoner pent – locked up

Mystical Germans who preach from ten till four – evangelical German Lutherans who had recently been touring England

to ride on a buffer in Parliamentary trains – The buffer is the shock-absorbing bumper on British railroad cars.  When an act of Parliament in 1844 required that at least one train a day run to every station on a line, for the purposes of making transportation available for the working classes. These slow trains were “Parliamentary trains.”

in fitless finger stalls – protective covering for an injured finger

and gurgled and guggled – a bubbling, choking noise

I drew my snickersnee – a long knife or small sword (from the Dutch)

compassing the death of the heir apparent – contriving, bringing about or becoming involved in any way

give artistic verisimilitude – appearance of truth 

Cock-and-a-bull stories – unbelievable boastful fictions, from old fables in which animals carry on human conversations

Is this a time for airy persiflage? – from the French, persifler, to whistle

a little tom-tit – a small bird of the tit family, similar to chickdees

Dicky-bird – any small bird

from the Congo or the Niger – the general region of central, west and northwest Africa. There are actually no tigers in the Congo or the Niger as they are not indigenous to Africa, but India.

a man is told off to be killed – counted off, or selected, as an officer might from a line of soldiers