Glossary and Notes
backchat (p. 50): A chiefly British word
meaning cheeky or impertinent responses, especially to criticism. In America,
this is usually called “backtalk.” (See Witkionary.)
blighters* (p. 5):
People you look at with dislike, annoyance, or pity: persons, usually male, especially
those who behave in an objectionable or pitiable manner. (See Wiktionary.)
“blood is blue” (“Jolly
Holiday”, p. 25): The expression blue blood is a calque (loan
translation) of Spanish sangre azul, and means someone of noble or
aristocratic ancestry. In Spain, from the middle ages, the peasants and the
moors had tanned skin, whereas the nobility of the Christian north of Spain,
who did not spend most of their time in the sun, had lighter skin, so their
blue veins were more prominent, thus giving rise to the notion that their
blood was actually blue. This use is first recorded in English in 1834.
bloody** (p. 54): A British curse, considered coarse and vulgar.
(It is short for “by the blood of Christ.”)
boarding school (p. 70): England has a
1000 year history of boarding schools, the most famous being the rivals Eton
and Harrow. English boarding schools have educated many prime ministers. In
the United States and Canada, often American Indians were forced to attend
boarding schools to “civilize” them. P. L Travers
herself attended boarding school in Sydney, Australia.
bowler (p. 11): A bowler hat
(often known as a derby in the United States) is a hard felt hat with a
rounded crown. It was popular with the working classes in the United States in
the 19th century, and with the British, Irish, and American middle and upper
classes around the turn of the 20th century. The stereotype of the City Gent
(a banker, businessman, or newspaperman who works in the City
of London) is a man in a conservative business suit with a bowler and an
brass band (“Jolly Holiday”,
pp. 25-26): A musical ensemble consisting of brass and percussion instruments.
In England and Wales, there is a strong tradition of community brass bands,
beginning mostly in the 19th century, and competitions are held regularly. In
Britain, cornets are normally used, in preference to trumpets.
brimstone and treacle** (pp.
67, 70, 82, 84):
Medicinal mixture used as antidote to poisons, including snakebites, commonly
used in Victorian times (a clue as to how old Miss Andrew is!). Brimstone
is another name for sulfur; treacle originally meant an antidote for
poison, and later an all-powerful cure-all, but those meanings are obsolete. In
1910, and also today, it is a mostly British word for molasses.
busker (p. 28): A person who makes money by passing the hat (soliciting donations) while entertaining the public (often by playing a musical instrument) on the streets or in other public area such as a park or market.
byway (p. 6): An obscure or infrequently
Caruso (p.84): The
name of Miss Andrews’s lark,
from the name of the famous Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921).
cathedral (“Feed the Birds”, pp. 46, 47, 105):
The principal church of a diocese where the chair (“cathedra”) of the bishop is; the cathedral of the Bishop of London is St Paul’s.
The cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of
The original church was built on the site in the year 604. The fourth
cathedral was begun in 1087 as a Norman church, but the style became Gothic
over the course of its history. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the church was
in decay. It was gutted in 1666 in the Great Fire of London. Although it might
have been reconstructed, the decision was made to build a new church, the
Christopher Wren was chosen to design the new church. Sir Christopher designed
about 50 other churches rebuilt after the Great Fire. The new cathedral designed
in the Baroque style, was consecrated in 1697. Many famous people are buried
in the crypt, including Sir Christopher himself. Above his tomb are the words
Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
(“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you”).
chatterbox (p. 50): Someone who chats or
talks to excess.
The City refers to
the City of London, a separate city and county in England, which is the
financial center of London and Great Britain, but not the political center. It
has an area of 1.12 square miles, and is colloquially referred to as “The
City” or “The Square Mile”. Within The City are St Paul’s Cathedral,
the Bank of England, Lloyd’s of London, many other banks, the Inner and Middle Temple, the London Stock Exchange,
and most of the newspapers, which traditinally had their offices on Fleet
Street, including The Times, The Daily
Telegraph, and others, although by the end of the 20th century most of the
newspapers had left The City. Beginning around 1700 the urban area of London began
expanding beyond the City of London, and the adjacent City of Westminster
(where most of the national government buildings are located), and several
attempts were made to form a metropolitan government. In 1889 the County of
London was created, which took parts of the counties Middlesex, Surrey, and
Kent. This lasted until 1965, when Greater London was created, including a
much larger area, the former County of London then becoming known as “Inner London”.
So today Greater London consists of three parts: the innermost part, the City
of London (area, 1.12 sq. mi.; population [2011 census], 7,400; density 6,600
persons per square mile), which is surrounded by Inner London (area, including
The City, 123 sq. mi.; population [2011 census], 3,231,901; density 26,000
persons per square mile), which in turn is surrounded by Outer London (the
parts added in 1965: area, 484 sq. mi.; population [2011 census], 4,942,040;
density, 10,000 persons per square mile). Greater London has completely
absorbed the former County of Middlesex.
Holiday”, p. 25): A
statement of belief, derived from Latin credo, meaning “I
demented (p.7): Originally, mentally ill
or suffering from dementia, but by extension, crazy.
doff* (p. 6): To take
off, as in an item of clothing.
drawing room (p. 31): A room in a house for
entertaining guests. The drawing room in Britain is approximately equivalent
to the living room in modern American houses. The drawing room was originally the withdrawing
room, which had more privacy than the parlor. In the 19th century,
after a formal dinner, the men would remain in the dining room for
cigars and brandy, while the women would withdraw to the drawing room.
After they finished their cigars, the men would rejoin the ladies in the
Empire (p. 73): In 1910, the British
Empire included not only the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, but also
the self-governing dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and South
Africa, and also many colonial possessions in Africa and Asia, most
importantly, India. About 23% of the world’s population and 24% of the world’s
land area was part of the
esquire (pp. 96, 105): An honorific
sometimes placed after the name of a gentleman. Originally, it meant a “shield bearer,” then a
“knight in training,” (although in
this sense normally the word squire would be used). It can also mean
the elder son of a knight, or a member of the gentry ranking below a knight.
(See more at Wiktionary
and also the Wikipedia
Members of a professional or priestly class among ancient (i.e.,
pre-Christian) Celtic peoples. See the Wikipedia
Holiday”, p. 25):
Patient self-control; restraint.
Perfect”, p. 18): Strong point, from the French word fort, or forte,
meaning “strong”. Originally it was pronounced with one syllable,
like the French word. In the script the word is printed and pronounced forté
(for-TAY), presumably from the musical direction forte, usually taken
to mean “loud”, but it is originally from the Italian word for “strong”.
gasworks** (p. 32): An
industrial plant for the production of inflammable gas, usually from coal; since lighting a match
(to smoke a cigarette, for example) near there would cause an explosion, Mrs.
Brill seems to be saying she doesn’t think much of Robertson Ay’s usefulness
in the kitchen.
- accrue (p. 88): to accumulate, collect, increase; Mary is
willing to wait to collect her wages until Mr Banks has some more money.
- au revoir (p. 66): French, literally, “until [we] see [each other]
again”; normally translated as “good bye”.
- atrocious (“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”,
pp. 52, 55, 57, 106, 113): means, in this song, offensive or heinous.
Holiday”, p. 25): (1) good breeding or refinement; (2) affected or pretentious politeness or elegance; (3) the status of belonging to polite society.
Guv’nor (pp. 96, 99-100): A cockney
pronunciation of governor, used informally to address any man of
superior rank or status.
halitotious* (p. 53): A
play on the medical condition of “halitosis,” or bad breath.
hall (p. 82): The principal room of a
medieval house. Today it is replaced with the parlor or drawing
room, or the living room in the United States. However, some newer houses
have a room called the great room.
Holiday”, p. 25):
Defining aspect: hall + mark, from Goldsmiths’ Hall in London, the site of the assay office, official stamp of purity in gold and silver articles.
heirloom** (pp. 56,
A family possession passed from generation to generation. In this sense, loom
means “utensil”, “tool”, or “weapon”. (Source: Wiktionary)
icing (pp. 32-33): a sweet glaze used to
cover cakes and sometimes cookies; it is often called “frosting” in
the United States. The sugar used is usually confectioner’s powdered sugar,
often called 10X sugar. The simplest icing, glacé, uses only sugar and water.
Other kinds of icing include buttercream (butter, or some other shortening,
with sugar and often milk), royal icing (egg whites and sugar), fondant
(heated water and sugar, often stabilized with gelatin), ganache (chocolate
and cream), and marzipan (ground almonds and sugar). So Jane is right,
although most icings do not use eggs, some do.
“It can mean exactly what you want it
to.” (p. 52) It sounds as if Mary Poppins is referring to Humpty
Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice
Found There. (The novel is the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in
- Note: The word inflammable means “capable of burning, or easily set on fire”; its antonym is non-inflammable.
However, the word flammable as come into current usage with the same
meaning as “inflammable”. Where safety concerns may arise, such as
on tanker trucks, it is probably best to use “flammable”, but the
original word was “inflammable”.
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
lark** (“Spoonful of Sugar”, pp. 34, 85): A
source of amusement or adventure. Also, a type of bird, such as the caged one
(named Caruso) that Miss Andrew brings with her when she visits Cherry Tree Lane in Act 2.
Can Happen”, p. 103):
Meaning “in the form of larva” with “larva” being the
juvenile form many creatures (including caterpillars and butterflies) take
before they turn into adults.
lummy** (p. 22): An
expression of surprise or interest. (Variation of lumme, from Lor’lumme,
a contraction of Lord, love me. In the book Mary Poppins Comes Back,
it is spelled lumme.)
medicine (pp. 34, 70 and “A
Spoonful of Sugar” pp. 36-38, 99): In the United States medicine
is usually pronounced MED-i-sin (three syllables), but in Great Britain,
MED-sin (two syllables).
p. 53): Literally, a single stone; the word usually connotes a single massive
stone, either in architecture, or in ancient monuments such as Stonehenge. In
the context of the song it refers to the towering slabs of carved stone erected by
the druids for use in their rituals. (At one time it was
assumed that Stonehenge was built by druids.)
needs must* (p. 97):
An expression used when discussing something you must do, but would rather not.
paragon (p.7): A person of preeminent qualities, who acts as a pattern or model for others.
The parlor was the
room in a house for receiving visitors, and was usually the best room of the
house. For semi-private meetings, the family and guests withdrew to the drawing
From pillar to post (p. 83): aimlessly
from place to place; by extension, from one bad predicament to another.
pounds, shillings, and pence (“Precision
and Order”, p. 40): In the pre-decimal
coinage of Great Britain and Ireland, a pound was worth 20 shillings (£1 =
20s) and a shilling was worth 12 pence (1s = 12d), and
thus twice the value of a sixpence. Today, the pound is divided into 100 (new)
pence, so £1 = 100p, and so a shilling has the value of
five new pence (5p). Read more about money here.
Perfect (p. 16) is a new song in the stage
version of Mary Poppins. Originally the Sherman brothers composed a
song “Practic’lly perfect in ev’ry way” for the film for Mary. But
when Walt Disney brought Glynis Johns to Burbank to be in the film, she
thought she was cast as Mary Poppins! Disney had to tell her no, she was to
play Winifred Banks, and that the Sherman brothers had a wonderful song for
her, and they would sing it for her after Disney took her to lunch. Of course,
they didn’t have a song, but in the hour and a half while Walt Disney and
Glynis Johns were at lunch, they reworked “Practic’ly Perfect” into “Sister Suffragette”! For the stage production, a new song was
written, “Practically perfect”, pronouncing every syllable in “practically,” from the notion that, if Mary Poppins is indeed
nearly perfect, she would pronounce every syllable in practically! (But
see forte, above.)
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant
‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s
the second book Mary Poppins Comes Back, Mary does not measure the
children with a tape measure, but with a thermometer, which reads the same as
in the film and musical: Michael’s “temperature” is “A noisy, mischievous, troublesome little
boy”; Jane’s is “Thoughtless, short-tempered
and untidy.” But its measurement of Mary Poppins, rather than “Practically perfect
in every way,” is “A very excellent and worthy person, thoroughly reliable
in every particular.” In the third book, Mary Poppins Opens the Door,
she does measure the children with a tape. Michael is measured as “Worse and
Worse” ; Jane has grown into “a Willful, Lazy, Selfish child”; the twins
John and Barbara are “Quarrelsome”; and baby Annabel is “Fretful and
Spoilt.” (These three youngest Banks children do not occur in the film or
p. 52, 55, 57, 106, 113): Exhibiting advanced skills and aptitudes at an abnormally early age.
pressing your advantage* (“Jolly Holiday”, p. 25):
Using an available opportunity to get ahead.
rack and ruin** (p. 99):
Complete destruction. (Originally this phrase was wrack and ruin: here wrack
essentially means wreck.)
p. 53): A play on the word “Rococo,” an 18th-century artistic period
(“Late Baroque”) characterized by its ornateness, elegance, and as
Mary Poppins suggests, its flourishes.
(“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, p. 53):
The vast ancient empire built by Julius Caesar and his successor Caesar
Augustus, which eventually grew too large
to effectively manage or protect and collapsed, or “entered the
scruff (“Anything Can Happen”, p. 109): The loose skin at the back of the neck of some
animals, often found in the phrase “the scruff of the neck.” (from Wiktionary)
scudding (p. 5, stage direction) Moving in a straight line, as “scudding
shilling (p. 101): See above on pounds,
shillings, and pence.
snuffed aborning* (p. 99): If a flame is snuffed
aborning, it is put out while it is just being produced, or born.
spic and span (“Practically
Perfect”, p. 68) clean and spotless; the original meaning was “like
spit-spot** (pp. 15, 18, 20, 21 36, 68, 85, 88): An expression
like “chop-chop”; basically, “hurry up.” (According to one website,
the first reference to this expression may be the 1964 film, but it occurs in
the first Mary Poppins book!)
sovereign* (p. 7, 12, 79): A supreme ruler, like a
king or queen.
“swing for you and sing as they pull the
lever”* (p. 32): Mrs Brill is threatening
to kill Robertson Ay and says she’d be happy to suffer the consequences; “they pull the lever” refers to being hanged, which was the punishment
for murder at the time.
The Times (p. 8): The Times is a
national British daily newspaper based in London. It is published Monday
through Saturday. There is also The Sunday Times, which has a different
editorial staff. Originally (1785) the paper was called The Daily Universal
Register, but changed its name to The Times in 1788. It was the
first newspaper to use the name Times, which has since been copied by
others, including The Times of India, the New York Times, and
the Los Angeles Times. The paper first used the font Times Roman,
but they now use a new but similar font Times Modern. The paper was
originally published in broadsheet, with classified advertising on the first
page, but today is published in tabloid format, with news on the first page,
presumably to make it more appealing to younger people, and more convenient
for commuters on trains.
tommy rot* (p. 10): Nonsense; ridiculousness.
tuppence: (“Feed the Birds”, pp.
46-48, 73, 105) correctly spelled twopence but pronounced “tuppence”; a value of two pence in the pre-decimal
coinage of England (“pence” is the plural of “penny”).
There was a copper twopence coin issued only in 1797. The coins in circulation
in 1910 would be the penny and the sixpence. Thus to “feed the
birds”, one would give the bird woman two penny coins. Read about pounds,
shillings, and pence. Read more about money here.
weather vane* (p. 18): An instrument for showing the
direction of the wind that is typically placed on the highest point of a
whingeing (p. 70): Complaining,
especially in an annoying or persistent manner; whining. (from Wiktionary)
wizened (p. 26, describing the Bird Woman) [pronounced
WIZZ-end]: Withered; lean and wrinkled by shrinkage as from age or illness.
- lever is pronounced LEE-va (/ˈliː.və/)
in England, but (usually) LEVV-er (/ˈlɛ.vɚ/) in the United
States and LEE-ver (/ˈliː.vɚ/) in Canada.
* = items from MTI glossary found at the MTI
Mary Poppins website; if modified, there are two stars (**)
The following glossary items are not in our version of the script
- Alexander the Great, William the Conquerer, and Vlad the
Impaler** (p. 50): Historical figures
with many important achievements in their lives; suffice it to say that they
were around a long time ago (as far back as 356 bc),
making Mrs Corry as old as history! (In the book Mary Poppins, Mrs Corry
remembers Christopher Columbus discovering America , William the
Conqueror, and Alfred the Great [King of Wessex, 871-899]).
- Alexander the Great (bc
356-323) was son of King Philip II of Macedon. Young Alexander
was tutored by Aristotle to the age of 16. He succeeded his father as king
at age 20. Then he led a 10 year military expedition in which he conquered
the Persian Empire, including Syria and Egypt, and even conquered part of
India. He died of a fever in Babylon at age 32, leaving as his heirs an
idiot brother and a posthumous son. His generals ended up dividing his
empire. Eventually there were three kingdoms: Egypt, Macedon, and the
- William the Conquerer (c. 1028-1087) was the illegitimate son of
Robert, Duke of Normandy, and inherited the Duchy in 1035, but took 15 years
to secure his control. At the death of Edward the Confessor, king of England,
in 1066, he claimed the English throne, and led a large fleet across the
channel to conquer England. He was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas
Day, 1066. He died in 1087.
- Vlad the Impaler (c. 1428- c. 1477) was a prince of
Wallachia (now part of Romania) known for his cruelty to his opponents. He
was also known as Vlad Dracula, and legends about him are the basis
of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula.
- barley water** (“The Perfect Nanny”, p. 7):
A sort of tea made by boiling barley; traditionally consumed by pregnant women
and older ladies for its health benefits and as an alternative to alcoholic
beverages. Michael’s request seems to have less to do with barley water’s
unpleasant smell than his desire for a younger nanny (one, say, with Mary
Poppins’s youthful energy). According to the first Mary Poppins book, Katie
Nanna “smelt of barley-water.”
- castor oil** (“The Perfect Nanny”, p. 7): The
oil extracted from the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), which grows
wild in parts of Los Angeles, notably in Griffith Park. Used to treat
constipation; tastes similar to how any cooking oil would when drunk straight.
- cipher (“A British Bank”)
another word for zero, from the Arabic صف (which transliterates as
“sifr”). The word zero is from the same Arabic word, via Italian zefiro.
- cod-liver oil* (76):
A supplement high in Vitamins A and D, which comes from the liver of cod fish.
Given to children because of Vitamin D’s usefulness in preventing rickets, a
disease of the bones.
- gruel* (“The
Perfect Nanny”): A type
of cereal (oat, wheat, or rye flour; or rice) boiled in water or milk; a thinner
version of porridge. There are many other things Michael would rather eat than
- lead* (49): A leash.
- Neleus**: (Νηλεύς) A
character from Greek mythology; the son of Poseidon (Ποσειδῶν: Greek god of the
Tyro (Τυρώ: a Greek princess). Neleus’s relationship with his father ended when
Neleus and his twin brother Pelias (Πελίας) were conceived. For more information, see
page 84 of the handbook.
- plinth*: The heavy base used to support a statue.
- Santa Claus (“Step in Time”): In England, instead of Santa
Claus, children are more likely to expect Father Christmas.
- screever* (18):
Someone who draws pictures on sidewalks for money. (The verb screeve is
perhaps from Italian scrivere, from Latin scrībō [“write”].)
- Mary Poppins gets her name presumably because she is popping in and
out of the story at various times.
- The beginning of the story is set in 1910, the last year of the reign of
King Edward VII (1901-1910) and the first year of the reign of his son
George V (1910-1936).
- P. L. Travers,
the pen-name of the author of the Mary Poppins stories, who was born Helen
Lyndon Goff in 1899 in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, in the Australian
bush, and went to boarding school in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. At
age 25, she went to England and adopted the name Pamela Lyndon Travers. She
died in London in 1996.
- There are eight Mary
Poppins books (by P. L. Travers):
- Mary Poppins (1934)
- Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935)
- Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943)
- Mary Poppins in the Park (1952)
- Mary Poppins from A to Z (1962)
- Mary Poppins in the Kitchen : A Cookery Book with a Story
(1975) (includes recipes)
- Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane (1982)
- Mary Poppins and the House Next Door (1988)
- There are five children of George and Winfred Banks in the books. Jane and
Michael are the two eldest. There are also the twins Barbara and John, who
are very young. Annabel is born in the second book, Mary Poppins Comes Back,
in chapter 5, “The New One.”
- Mrs Corry in the musical combines the character of Mrs Corry, the
seller of sweets in the book Mary Poppins and the character of
Nellie-Rubina in her role as seller of conversations in Mary Poppins
- Around 1910 most of the banks in London were located in the City
of London. Today, however, many banks are now consolidated into several
mega-banks, most of which are located at Canary Wharf, in the East London
borough of Tower Hamlets (formerly in the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar).
Lloyds Bank, as well as the Bank of England, however, are still in the City.
- There are many parks in London, including eight large Royal Parks,
which were formerly royal hunting grounds but by 1910 were open to the public.
(These Royal Parks are Crown property, and the public has no legal right to
use them, but today that is mostly a technicality.) The Royal Parks in
central London are Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park, Regent’s Park, and St
James’s Park. In addition, there are
many garden squares, which were private gardens attached to houses of the
wealthy. Many of them have been opened as public parks.
- Read the Wikipedia article about supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
- A bit about formal
dress in Edwardian England.
about British money before decimalization (1971).