My Fair Lady
Notes & Glossary
The story of Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady is based on the
non-musical play Pygmalion, by
George Bernard Shaw, which, in turn was
based on the tale of "Pygmalion" from ancient Greek mythology as retold in
Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The story is
about a misogynist on the island of Cyprus named Pygmalion who builds an ivory
statue of a woman, which he names Galatea, and works on it until it becomes so
beautiful that he falls in love with it. He prays to Venus (Aphrodite) who takes
pity on him and brings the statue to life. They eventually have two daughters.
Shaw’s idea was what would happen when Galatea takes on a life of her own, and
is free to reject Pygmalion. Thus in one sense Higgins is Pygmalion and Eliza is
Galatea. However, in the epilogue to Shaw’s play, Eliza marries
Freddy. Many readers have been appalled at that idea, including Lerner,
which is why the ending of My Fair Lady is changed. Thus the real
Pygmalion is Shaw, who brings two characters to life, Higgins and Eliza, and
they take on a life of their own. Our knowledge of human nature suggests that
Eliza is too strong a character for the likes of Freddy. (I owe this insight to
The title My Fair Lady is from the cockney pronunciation of Mayfair
lady, as in the nursery rhyme "London Bridge is falling down". Mayfair is one of the richest districts of
London, located in the West End. The name comes from a fair that was formerly
held there each May. The story is about how a Lisson Grove girl becomes a Mayfair lady, and the
consequences of that transformation.
Act I, Scene 1: Covent Garden
- Today London is a region of England, also called Greater London,
consisting of 33 boroughs. The very heart of Greater London is the City of
London, the medieval walled city (the walls are no longer there), a little
over one square mile, and is called "The City" by most locals. The
City is the traditional location of the merchants of England, as well as the
stock exchange and the press. Just to the west is the City of Westminster,
one of the boroughs of the London region. Westminster is the site of
government, the royal palaces, the houses of Parliament, and many large
parks. In 1912, the inner portion of today’s London region was the County of
London, consisting of 28 metropolitan boroughs plus the City of London. In
1965 the County of London was abolished, and replaced with the larger
Greater London, incorporating also most of the former Middlesex County, and
parts of the counties of Surrey, Kent, Essex, and Hertford. The metropolitan
boroughs of the old County of London were reorganized to form 12 London
boroughs, and, with the City of London, constituting Inner London. The
districts and boroughs of the rest of the new Greater London were organized
as the 20 boroughs of Outer London. From around 1750 to 1950 London was
the largest city in the world.
- The word Cockney applies both to an accent of English as well as
one who uses that accent, generally working-class and lower-class Londoners.
The traditional definition of a Cockney was one born within the sound of the
bow bells; that is, the bells of the church of St Mary-le-Bow located in
Cheapside in the City of London. The area includes the East End and many of
the other boroughs located near the City of London. Some features of Cockney
- h-dropping: ("’edge’og" for "hedgehog")
- t-glottalization ("ge’elman" for "gentleman")
- diphthong alterization ("tike" for "take")
- Covent Garden is a district of Greater London, England, on the border of the City of Westminster and the London Borough of Camden. It was known since the reign of King John (1199-1216) as "Convent Garden", being the kitchen garden for the monks of the convent of monks of St Peter, Westminster. King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1540 and granted the land to some of his cronies. In the 17th century the area was designed by Inigo Jones as a market. St
Paul’s church was built at the west end. Originally the market was open air, but has since been covered. In the Great Fire of 1666, many other rival markets were destroyed, and Covent Garden became the most important market in the country.
- The Royal Opera House is England’s foremost opera house, located in
Covent Garden, and it is often referred to as Covent Garden; it was formerly
known as the Covent Garden Theatre.
- St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, was designed by Inigo Jones, built 1631-33, and consecrated 1638. It is known as the
Artists’ Church because of its location and association with the theater. It was made a parish church in 1645. In 1662, Samuel Pepys noted in his diary the first recorded performance of "Punch and Judy". In 1723, the Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House, opened. In 1795, there was a fire that
destroyed most of the interior of the church, but the parish records and the pulpit were saved. Both J. M. W. Turner, the artist, and the William S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) were baptized in the church. Buried at St
Paul’s include Samuel Butler, and Thomas Arne (composer of "Rule Britannia"). There are memorials to Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, and
The exterior of the church is rather plain, looking almost like a temple.
- A smudge pot is an oil-burning stove, used in orchards to protect
the fruit from frost.
- A costermonger was originally a seller of fruit, but specifically applied to those who sold fruit from barrows. Eventually the term applied to anyone who sold anything from barrows.
- A busker is a street musician who plays for donations.
- The Bible is written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, not English.
However, the King James translation has been considered by some to be such
eloquent English, that it some passages it reads better than the original!
- Zed is the last letter of the alphabet in every English-speaking
country except the United States.
- Kerb is the British spelling of curb.
- Tec is slang for detective.
- Hoxton (originally Hoc’s farm) is an area in the London Borough of Hackney, immediately north of the financial district of the City of London. The area is bordered by Old Street to the south, City Road to the west, Regents Canal on the north side and Kingsland Road on the east.
- Selsey is a seaside town and civil parish, about 7 miles (11
kilometers) south of Chichester, in the Chichester District of West Sussex, England.
- Lisson Grove is now one of the richest districts of the City of Westminster in Greater London. But a century ago, it was one of the worst, a kind of
"Hell’s Kitchen" of London, the buildings known for squalor and dilapidation, and the inhabitants known for drunkenness, crime, and prostitution. The women were described as the most foul-mouthed in London. In the late 18th century, the area was still rural, and the composer Joseph Haydn stayed here for some time to escape the noise of London.
There is a street named Lisson Grove, which, if you follow northward, you
will find yourself on Abbey Road.
- Blimey is a Cockney expletive known since the 19th century,
short for Gorblimey, which is from God blind me.
- Cheltenham is a large spa town in Gloucestershire, on the edge of
the Cotswolds, and has a reputation of being respectable and wealthy. Being
in the West Country, inhabitants of this area, unless taught otherwise,
would pronounce "r"s and sometimes pronounce initial "s" as
"z", such as "zider from Zomerzet".
- Harrow is now a borough of Greater London. Before 1963 it was
part of Middlesex County, and in 1934 it was formed from the urban district
of Harrow on the Hill and two others.
- Cambridge is one of the two medieval university cites in England,
the other being Oxford.
- Today in India, English is the chief auxiliary language. But
before independence in 1947, it was the language of government of the
- Phonetics is the science of the sounds of speech, and their
production, transmission, reception, and their transcription, analysis, and
- An Irish accent is often called a brogue.
- The most noticeable features of Yorkshire
- The use of the short a (IPA [a]) in such words as ask, bath,
chance, and grass, as opposed to the broad vowel (IPA [α:])
used in Southern English. (In Northern English the vowel in these words
is the same as in such words as ash, as in American, but not
Southern English, English.)
- The vowel in such words as cut, dove, and rum is
the same as in book.
- A Cornishman is a man from Cornwall, the most southwesterly county
of England. At one time there was a separate language called Cornish related
to Welsh. By the end of the 18th century the Cornish language was no longer
spoken. Being the most westerly part of the West Country, Cornish English
shares many features with other West Country accents. See Cheltenham,
- Why can’t the English learn to speak? The first time I heard the
music to My Fair Lady my grandmother asked that question!
- Soho Square is in the City of Westminster in London’s fashionable
West End. Today the square is the address of many media companies, and
is also a center of gay culture.
- Higgins refers to Eliza as a "bilious pigeon", meaning,
in this context, "extremely unpleasant or distasteful". (The word bilious
originally meant "relating to bile", or "suffering from an
excess of bile". In medieval physiology, yellow bile, also known
as choler, was considered one of the four humors, which controlled
moods. An excess of bile was supposed to lead to peevishness. The other
humors were blood, phlegm, and black bile, the excess of which caused,
respectively, cheerfulness, sluggishness, and gloominess or melancholy.)
- Garn is Cockney slang for "go on!", meaning something
like "you’re kidding!"
- Higgins boasts to Pickering, ". . . in six months I could pass her off as a
duchess at an Embassy Ball . . .or as the Queen of
Sheba." The Queen of Sheba is mentioned in the Bible, 1
Kings 10 and
2 Chronicles 9, who on hearing the fame of King Solomon, travels to Jerusalem.
1And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the
Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions.
2And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.
3And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not.
4And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built,
5and the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cupbearers, and his ascent by which he went up unto the house of the
Lord; there was no more spirit in her.
6And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom.
7Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard.
8Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.
9Blessed be the
Lord thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the
Lord loved Israel for ever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice.
10And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon.
- We are told that Colonel Pickering is the author of Spoken Sanskrit.
In the 20th Century, Sanskrit was not usually a spoken language,
but was the language of education and culture in India, in the way that
Latin was in Western Europe from Roman times to the 20th Century. Today, the
constitution of India recognizes 22 languages, including Sanskrit. Hindi is
the official language of the national government, but that is somewhat of a
legal fiction, as English is used in the parliament and is the principal
language of education. Each state determines its own official language. According to
the census of 2001, 29 languages are spoken by more than one million native speakers, 122 by more than 10,000.
One estimate puts the number of "mother tongues" in India at 415.
Most of the languages
of India are included in four major groups, Indo-Aryan
(about 70% of India, which includes Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi, and Gujarati;
spoken mainly in the north), Dravidian
(about 22% of India, which includes Tamil, and is spoken mainly in the
(which includes Vietnamese, and in India, Mundu, spoken in the east), and Tibeto-Burman
(spoken mainly in the northeast).
- The Carlton, where Colonel Pickering is lodging before he meets
Higgins, is probably the Carlton Tower Hotel, today known as the Jumeirah
Hotel, a five-star modern hotel
located owned by a firm headquartered in Dubai, located at Cadogan Place and
Sloane Street in the Belgravia section of the City of Westminster, near
- Higgins’s address is 27-A Wimpole Street, a street located in the City of Westminster.
The street is famous for having been the home of Elizabeth Barrett from 1838 until 1846, when she
eloped with Robert Browning. It was also the residence of Paul
McCartney from 1964-66.
- A jaw is a conversation or simply idle chatter. Higgins invites
Pickering to Wimpole street so that they can "have a jaw over
- In British slang, blooming or bloomin’, as an adjective, is
an intensifier: "a bloomin’ heiress".
- Paree is an alternate pronunciation of Paris, which is
closer to the French pronunciation.
- Capri is a resort island in the Gulf of Naples, known for the ruins
of ancient Roman villas, and the Blue Grotto. The Italian pronunciation is
(KAH-pree) ['kapri]; the usual English pronunciation is (kə-PREE) [kə'pri],
which is close to the French pronunciation.
- Biarritz is a resort town in the southwest of France, in the Basque
country, known for some of the best beaches in Europe.
Act I, Scene 2: Tenement Section, Tottenham Court Road
- Tottenham Court Road is a street in central London, running from
Oxford Street (at St Giles Circus) on the south to Euston Road on the
north. Now it is a
commercial street featuring electronic stores. A century ago it was the site
of tenements. There are three underground stations on this street, from
south to north: Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street, and Warren Street.
- A public house is a British word for tavern, an establishment where
alcoholic beverages, and often food, are sold and consumed, often shortened
to pub. The bar in a pub is the counter at which the
drinks and food are served. (In the United States, the establishment itself
is usually also called a bar.)
- Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in Greater London, divided by
the Serpentine Lake, and known for its Speakers’ Corner. It is one of the
royal parks of London. At one time Kensington Gardens, which is adjacent,
was part of it, and today they appear to be parts of the same park. Together
the two parks are larger than the principality of Monaco.
- Mews refers to a group of buildings surrounding a small street or
alley, with private stables, often converted to residential apartments.
- St Paul’s Cathedral is the cathedral church of the Church of
England in the City of London. The present church was built at the end
of the 17th century and was completed in 1708. The previous church had been
damaged by the roundheads in the English Civil War and Commonwealth period
(1640-60), and gutted by fire in the Great Fire of 1666. The architect
Sir Christopher Wren was assigned the task of redesigning the church in
1668, and went through several different designs.
- Alfred Doolittle’s occupation is dustman, a collector of the
contents of dustbins. Before the 20th century, the principal content of
dustbins was ashes and cinders. These were collected by the dustmen, and
then sifted through for valuables. The ashes and cinders could be made into
bricks, or used for fertilizer. Today, a dustman is essentially the English term for what is known in America as a
Act I, Scene 3: Higgins’ Study
Bell’s Visible Speech is a writing system created by Alexander Melville
Bell, the father of Alexander Graham Bell. It is a phonetic system, designed
to show the position and movement of the tongue, throat, and nose in
producing sounds. It differs from more familiar phonetic systems, like
the International Phonetic Alphabet, which use arbitrary symbols to
represent sounds. Thus, Visible Speech can be used to teach speech to
the deaf. The younger Bell used his wealth earned from inventing the
telephone to promote this system. In fact, he considered his work with
the deaf to be more important than the invention of the telephone.
- Broad Romic is a reformed alphabet for spelling English developed by Henry
Sweet (1845-1910--Sweet was the model for Henry Higgins) in 1900, using the existing
Roman alphabet, with the addition of two characters from Old English ash
(æ) and edh (ð), the Greek theta (θ), inverted e (ə), inverted c (unavailable in Unicode: ɔ),
and modified s (ʃ) and z (ʒ). Romic was the basis of
the International Phonetic Alphabet. (Broad Romic is distinguished
from Narrow Romic in that broad refers to spelling a variety
of different pronunciations of what most hearers would consider the same
word; such would be the case with different accents. Narrow refers to
more precisely transcribing the sounds of an individual speaker; thus
different accents would have the same broad spelling but a different narrow
spelling. In today’s terminology the distinction would be called phonemic
- The dustbin is what Americans call a trash can or garbage can.
- Eliza: "Here! I’m goin’ away! He’s off his chump, he is. I
don’t want no
balmies teachin’ me." Both off his chump and balmy
are British slang for "crazy".
- Wallop means to beat soundly, thrash.
- John Milton (1608-74), English poet and politician, is best known
for his epic poem Paradise Lost, and his Areopagitica, a
defense of freedom of speech.
- John Keats (1795-1821) was one of the most celebrated of the
English romantic poets. Some of his best-known poems are "La Belle Dame sans Merci",
"Ode on a Grecian Urn", and "Ode to a Nightingale", all
written in 1819.
- The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 at the request of
Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. It was abolished in 1834. The Spanish
Inquisition was under the control of the monarchs, and not the Pope, as was
the case in most other countries where the Inquisition was
established. The pope Sixtus IV issued a bull to stop the Spanish
Inquisition, accusing the monarchs of being greedy and overzealous, but the
bull was withdrawn under pressure from Ferdinand. Originally the main
target was conversos, Jews who had converted to Christianity but were
suspected (by both sides) as being insincere. Another target was moriscos,
moors (Muslims). After the Protestant Reformation, Protestants also became
targets, although there were almost no actual Protestants in Spain, but some
people were accused of holding Protestant views. Although the inquisitors
were mostly Dominicans learned in the law, the inquisition functioned as an
arm of the state, with the aim of enforcing Catholic orthodoxy on the
population, although its critics accused the Spanish monarchs of using it to
confiscate people’s wealth and maintain control. Torture was used
sometimes to exact confessions. At the end it is estimated that fewer
than 1000 persons were executed by the inquisition, and many more were
exiled or had their property confiscated. The cruelty and
arbitrariness of the inquisition was often exaggerated by (mainly)
Act I, Scene 5: Higgins’ Study
- The Moral Reform League is not an actual organization but probably
a composite of many such societies that existed in the early 20th century,
such as the Anti-Saloon Society and the National Temperance Movement.
- In British usage, governor can refer to one’s employer, or to any
man of superior rank or status; this is how Alfred Doolittle is using the
- A blackguard (pronounced blaggard) is a morally reprehensible person, scoundrel, or cad.
- The Cabinet in the United Kingdom consists of the most senior
government ministers, many of which are heads of government departments, and
all of which are members of the House of Commons or House of Lords. The
Prime Minister is the president of the cabinet, and chooses its members.
Traditionally, the cabinet was considered to be a subcommittee of the Privy
- Higgins considers Doolittle eloquent enough to be in the cabinet (after
his speech is reformed, presumably!) or to hold a "popular pulpit in
Wales". ) Although the Church of England was established in Wales
until the 20th century, the majority of Welsh preferred the congregational
- Eliza: "I won’t say those ruddy vowels one more time!"
Literally, the word ruddy means "reddish", but in British
slang it is a strong oath, the equivalent of bloody, a reference to
the Blood of Christ; thus it came to be the equivalent of
- Houndslow is a hamlet in the Scottish Borders. Perhaps the
correct reference is to Hounslow, which is now a borough of Greater
London. Until 1975 it was part of Middlesex County. Hounslow West was
until 1977 the last stop on the Piccadilly Line, where passengers bound for
Heathrow Airport would detrain, and take a shuttle bus the rest of the way
- Hertford is a county and town in the county just northwest of
- Hereford is a county in the West Midlands of England, next to
- Hampshire, sometimes called Southampton, is a county in the south
of England; the chief city is Southampton, which is a major port. Also in
Hampshire is Portsmouth, the principal base of the Royal Navy.
- Alfred Doolittle comes to rescue Eliza from a fate "worse than death":
he assumes she is to be Higgins’ mistress!
- Cheerio is a Britishism used usually in parting or in a toast. (The cereal was originally called Cheeri
Oats; the name was
soon changed to Cheerios. The cereal is made and distributed by the
General Mills company of Minnesota. It was the first ready-to-eat oat-based
cold cereal, and was first available in 1941. In the United Kingdom it
is sold under the Nestlé brand.)
- The Court of St James’s is the royal court of the United Kingdom,
wherever the Sovereign, currently H. M. Queen Elizabeth II, happens to
be. The name comes from the Palace of St James’s, which was the
official royal residence in London from the days of Queen Anne to King William IV,
that is, from 1702 to 1837, when the residence was moved to Buckingham
Palace. Even today, ambassadors are accredited to the Court of St
James’s. The equivalent office from a Commonwealth country, called a
high commissioner rather than an ambassador, are accredited to the United
Kingdom, since the queen traditionally was head of state of all such
- With blackest moss the flower-plots/Were thickly crusted, one and all
are the opening lines to the poem "Mariana"
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, published 1830 in Poems, Chiefly Lyrical,
his first solo publication.
- Demosthenes (384–322 b.c.,
Greek Δημοσθένης) was an
orator and politician in ancient Athens. As a boy he had a speech impediment.
According to legend, in order to train himself to speak well, he would speak
over pounding surf or would put pebbles in his mouth. In a series of
speeches known as Philippics, he warned the southern Greek cities against
the designs of Philip of Macedon, who had plans to unify all Greeks against
the Persians. When Philip died, he argued against his son and successor,
Alexander (the Great). When he was pursued by Alexander’s agents, he took
his own life rather than be captured.
Owl and the Pussycat is a nonsense poem by Edward Lear published in
- Whiteleys was London’s first department store, which opened in
1863. It moved to its final location in 1911. The store closed in 1981, but
reopened as a shopping mall in 1989 after extensive remodeling. (In Shaw’s Pygmalion,
Higgins tells Mrs Pearce to "[r]ing up Whiteley or somebody" to
buy new clothes for Eliza. In My Fair Lady, Higgins has no idea where
to buy Eliza a gown for the ball; Pickering suggests Whiteley.)
Act I, Scene 6: Outside Ascot
- Ascot is a village in Berkshire, the location of the Ascot
Racecourse, founded in 1711 by Queen Anne. There were only four
days of racing a year there until 1945. Today there is a racing season of 25
days. The opening of the Ascot season, the Royal Ascot, is one of the
major social events of the year, attended by the royal family, who arrive in
a horse-drawn carriage. To be admitted to the Royal Enclosure is a
great honor, and there is a strict dress code. Men must wear full morning
dress, with top hat. Women must wear hats, and may not show bare shoulders
or midriffs. (In 2012 Royal Ascot announced that women may no longer wear
fascinators in the Royal Enclosure, but must wear hats.) Many of the guests have no knowledge or interest in the races,
and are there simply to be seen and to see who is there and what they are
wearing. Press coverage is more about the attire of the guests than about
the racing. Outside the Royal Enclosure the dress requirements are less
strict, but most attendees choose to dress formally. Thus Higgins is not
violating any actual dress code, but he is dishonoring his mother’s box in
the way he dresses. See dress.
- A gavotte is a dance in moderately quick quadruple time, or music
appropriate for such a dance. Originally it was a French peasant
- Aïda is one of the most popular operas by Giuseppe Verdi, with a
story set in Egypt, and was intended to be ready for the opening of the Suez
Canal in 1869. However, it wasn’t ready in time, and was premiered in 1871.
- Götterdämmerung (Meaning "twilight of the gods") is the
fourth opera in Richard Wagner’s ring cycle. It is one of the longest operas
ever written, lasting about six hours. The prologue alone is longer than
some other whole operas. Interestingly, this was the first of the four
operas that Wagner worked on, originally titled "Siegfried’s
Death". As he worked he saw a need to tell the back story, and worked
backwards to write the other three. For those who are not opera lovers, it
symbolizes all that is bombastic, pretentious, and extravagant about opera.
- A peer is a nobleman or noblewoman. In the United Kingdom there are
five ranks in the peerage: duke, marquess (spelled
"marquis" in Scotland), earl, viscount, and baron.
The wife of a peer, or a woman who holds a peerage in her own right, is
called, respectively, a duchess, marchioness, countess,
viscountess, and baroness. The different ranks of the peerage
are distinguished by their coronets.
- A duke is a nobleman possessing the highest rank in the peerage,
and is the equivalent of prince. The territory ruled by a duke is
called a duchy, and there are at present only two duchies in the United
Kingdom, viz, the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster. The
eldest son of the sovereign automatically becomes Duke of Cornwall, so the
present Duke is the Prince of Wales. When Henry of Monmouth, who had been
created Duke of Lancaster, became King Henry V in 1413, the Duchy has been
possessed by the sovereign, although today it (as is the Duchy of Cornwall)
a property company rather than a feudal estate. There are at present 28
dukes in the United Kingdom.
Act I, Scene 7: Ascot
- The fourth wall is the plane between the audience and the stage,
the imaginary completion of the enclosure of the stage.
- The Royal Society is the short name for The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge,
a learned society for science in London. It was founded in 1660 from some
previously-existing informal societies, and was formally incorporated by
royal charter in 1662. Some of the famous presidents of the society
were: Sir Christopher Wren (1680-1682); Samuel Pepys (1684-1686); Charles Montagu
(1695-1698); Sir Isaac Newton (1703-1727); Sir Humphry Davy (1820-1827); William Thomson, Lord Kelvin
John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh (1905-1908); and Sir Ernest Rutherford (1925-1930).
The motto of the society is Nullius in Verba (Latin for "On the
words of no one"), indicating that the society’s commitment is to
establishing truth by experiment and not by reference to earlier
authorities, as was the case with medieval scientists. Thus the Royal
Society was one of the first organizations to embrace the modern scientific
- A pouffe is a round backless cushion-like seat that usually can
accommodate several people.
- Influenza, also called the flu, is an infectious disease of birds
and mammals caused by a virus. Symptoms include sore throat, coughing,
chills, then fever, muscle pain, and general discomfort.
- Diphtheria is a severe upper respiratory tract illness caused by a
bacterium. Once quite common, it has largely been eliminated, at least in
the developed nations, by vaccination.
- A paddock is an enclosure where the horses are assembled, saddled,
and paraded before a race.
Act I, Scene 8: Outside Higgins’ House, Wimpole St
- shilling (see money)
- A nosegay is a small bunch (or bouquet or posy) of flowers, usually
presented as a gift.
- The story of a building is spelled storey in British
Act I, Scene 9: Higgins’ Study
- Port is a rich, sweet, fortified wine, usually red, originally from
- The Embassy ball, presumably a ball held at an embassy, would be a
formal occasion. Men would be expected to be attired in evening dress, or
military uniform, as would the women. In the evening, unlike daytime,
sparkling jewelry (such as diamonds) is appropriate. Since 1860, what is now
called a tuxedo is considered men’s semi-formal wear, but since the 1960s,
at least in the U. S. the distinction between formal and semi-formal evening
dress is not always observed. See dress.
- The butler is usually the head servant in a household, in charge of
the wine and other drinks (the name is related to bottle). When the
owner travels, the butler stays with the house. A man’s personal servant is
known as a valet.
- A footman is a uniformed male servant who attends the door, the
carriage, and waits tables. Originally, his duties included making sure
guests stepped first with the right foot, for superstitious householders.
Act I, Scene 10: Embassy Promenade
- A promenade is the march of guests into a formal ball, also called
the "grand march". The term is often used to refer to a formal
dance, particularly at a school, and is shortened to "prom". The
promenade is also the space in or adjacent to a ballroom where the guests
can walk to see and be seen.
- The honorific Lady can refer to the wife of a knight, or to a woman
who is a baroness, viscountess, or countess in her own right.
- Mrs Langtry is the actress Lillie Langtry, born Emilie Charlotte De
Breton in 1853 on the island of Jersey. In 1874 she married the Irish
landowner Edward Langtry, and eventually they left the Channel Islands to
move to Belgravia, London. At a reception for her father, an artist drew her
portrait, which was published on post cards, and she became famous, and
known as the "Jersey Lily". In 1877 she became the mistress of the
Prince of Wales, Albert Edward ("Bertie"), the future king Edward
VII; the affair lasted one year. She became a popular stage actress, and
later moved to the United States where she became a film actress and a U. S.
citizen. She bought a winery in Lake County, California, which is still in
operation. She died in 1929 in Monaco, and is buried in Jersey, in the
churchyard of the church of which her father had been rector.
- Dr Themistocles Stephanos is named for the Athenian statesman Themistocles (Θεμιστοκλης)
(bc c. 524-459).
He was the chief advocate of the Athenian fleet, and it was largely his
strategy that defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis in bc 480.
After the war he advocated rebuilding the walls of Athens on a grand scale,
but he was ostracized by the pro-Sparta faction. He eventually went to
Persia where he was made governor of Magnesia. Stephanos is a common Greek
name, meaning "crown": not a royal crown, but a crown of victory,
such as was placed on the heads of victorious athletes and usually made of
- In 1912, the Queen of Transylvania would have been the Queen
of Hungary and also Empress of Austria, since Transylvania
was part of the Habsburg empire.
Act II, Scene 1: Higgins’ Study
- Budapest is the capital of Hungary. Originally, it was two cities,
Buda and Pest, but they were merged in 1873. (The Hungarians pronounce the
city /booda-pesht/, but that would not rhyme with "ruder pest"!)
- Yavol! is the German Jawohl!, an emphatic form of German ja,
meaning "yes", or "certainly".
- Hungarian royal blood would mean Eliza would be of the house of
- Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located at the
southernmost point of the Iberian peninsula. The name comes from
Arabic Jabal Tarik, meaning "mountain (or rock) of Tarik";
Tarik began the Muslim conquest of most of Spain from this point. (In
earlier times, the rock was known as Mons Calpe, or one of the
Pillars of Hercules.) The area was reconquered by the Spanish Christians in
1492. In 1713 in the Treaty of Utrecht, the area was ceded to Great Britain
"in perpetuity". It remains a British military base. Spain has
repeatedly requested the return of Gibraltar, but the majority of
inhabitants prefer to remain under British sovereignty. The strength of the
Rock of Gibraltar is legendary; one insurance company used the motto
"Strong as the Rock of Gibraltar".
- Transylvania is a region now part of
Romania that had been a part of Hungary for many years. At the end of the
medieval period, the area was inhabited by Hungarians, Romanians, and
Germans (Saxons), but was politically attached to Hungary. When King Louis
II of Hungary was killed fighting the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Mohacs,
Ferdinand of Habsburg, the ruler of Austria, claimed the Hungarian throne.
But the governor of Transylvania, John Zapolya, disputed this. At the end of
the war, the wreck of the Hungarian state was divided: the Austrians got a
strip in the west, the Turks took central Hungary, and Transylvania was made
an autonomous principality under Turkish suzerainty, with John II, Zapolya’s
son, as prince. It was during this time that Transylvania acquired a
reputation of being a mysterious land. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was
based on such legends. After the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the Austrians
subdued all of Hungary, including Transylvania. After 1711, the Austrians
replaced the prince of Transylvania with governors. (Thus there has been no
separate Prince of Transylvania since 1711.) In 1867 the Austrian
Empire was reorganized as Austria-Hungary. At that time, Transylvania became
merely a region of Hungary, rather than a separate Austrian crown land. The
Hungarians made efforts to impose their language and religion on the
Romanians and Saxons. After World War I, Transylvania became part of
Romania. Now the tables were turned: the Romanians discriminated against the
Hungarians. In 1940, when Hitler was master of most of Europe, Transylvania
was divided between Hungary and Romania, both Hungary and Romania being
nominal allies of Nazi Germany. After World War II, the boundary reverted so
that Transylvania became wholly part of Romania.
- A guttersnipe is a street urchin or a person of the lowest social
Act II, Scene 2: Outside Higgins’ House
- A blighter is a British slang term for a chap or bloke, but usually
means a low, contemptible person. [Eliza: "Show Me"]
Act II, Scene 3: Covent Garden Flower Market
- A swell is either a fashionably-dressed person or a well-to-do
- St George’s, Hanover
Square, where Alfred Doolittle gets married, is an Anglican
church in Mayfair. Because of its location it has been the venue of many
high-society weddings. George Frederick Handel was a frequent worshipper at
St George’s, and the church is now home to the annual Handel festival. The
church supports a full-time professional choir.
Act II, Scene 4: Higgins’ House, Upstairs
- Scotland Yard is used to refer to the Metropolitan Police Service,
which patrols Greater London, except for the City of London, which has its
own police. The name refers to a short street in London off Whitehall, which
at one time may have been the sight of a diplomatic mission (an embassy or
legation) of Scotland, in the days before 1603 when Scotland and England had
separate sovereigns, or it may have been owned by a man named Scott, or was
the terminal station of a stagecoach line to Scotland. In 1829, the
Metropolitan Police was founded by Sir Robert Peel (then called Peelers, now
called Bobbies). By 1888, they had outgrown their quarters, and in 1890
moved to a site on the Victoria Embankment. In 1967 they moved to a site at
10 Broadway, called New Scotland Yard, which is the present location
of the headquarters.
- The Home Office is a department of the government of the United
Kingdom responsible for internal affairs, including security, crime, and
- Whitehall is a street in the City of Westminster, London, where
many offices of the government are located; thus the name also refers to the
Act II, Scene 5: Garden of Mrs Higgins’ House
- Mrs Higgins’s conservatory is a greenhouse adjacent to her house,
where plants are displayed aesthetically arranged.
- In the Church of England, a vicar was a clergyman acting on behalf
of another. Historically, a rector received all the tithes of a
parish, but a vicar only part of the tithes, on the theory that he
was acting on behalf of another, usually a monastery. When the monasteries
were abolished under King Henry VIII, lay owners took over the privileges of
the monasteries, including the greater tithes, and the right to nominate
vicars. By the middle of the 19th century, the distinction between rector
and vicar was only historical. (In the U. S. Episcopal church, a
rector is in charge of a parish, which is self-supporting, whereas a vicar
is in charge of a mission, a new church supported by the diocese.)
- A gramophone is an antique record player, with the sound of the
vibrating needle magnified acoustically. The term originated as a trademark
in 1887 by the German-born American Emil Berliner, whose system of using
disks succeeded where Edison’s 1884 phonograph, which used cylinders
did not. The term was replaced with electronic amplification with phonograph,
and in the 1950s by record player.
- Addle-pated is a synonym for dull-witted.
- Ducky means fine, excellent, wonderful, cute, charming, or darling.
- A crumpet is a round soft unsweetened bread cooked on a griddle,
often toasted. (There is a British slang term crumpet for an
attractive woman, but the term was not used in this sense until 1936.)
- Windsor Castle, located in Berkshire, is the largest inhabited
castle in the world, and is also the oldest to be continuously inhabited. It
is one of the three official residences of the British monarch, the other
two being Buckingham Palace in London and Holyrood House in Edinburgh.
Today, the monetary unit of the United Kingdom is the pound sterling,
abbreviated £ (from Latin libra). It
is currently the third-most used currency in international trade (after the U.
S. Dollar and the Euro). It is subdivided into 100 (new) pence, abbreviated
"p". Before the monetary reform of 1971, the British pound sterling was divided into 20 shillings. Each shilling was then divided into 12 pence. (Pence is plural for penny when denoting value, but pennies when counting coins. Thus five pennies are together worth five pence.)
The abbreviations for pound, shilling, penny were £. s. d., respectively, from
Latin Libra, solidus, denarius. The first coin to be minted
in England was the silver penny, called the sterling, or "little
star". It took 240 of them to make a pound, so that became a pound
sterling. After the Norman conquest (1066) the unit of shilling was
introduced. But until much later there were no pound or shilling coins;
these were merely units of account. Some of the monetary units and coins
referred to in the play are:
- The guinea, named for the part of Africa where much of England’s
gold came from, was originally a gold coin worth one pound. Later, as
the value of gold increased relative to silver, the guinea came to be worth more than a pound.
The coin was discontinued in 1816, being replaced by the sovereign.
The guinea remained as a unit of account, worth 21 shillings, or one pound
and one shilling. (There were also half guinea coins.)
- A sovereign was a gold coin worth one pound, often referred to as a
- A mark was never a coin or note, but merely a unit of account worth
160d, or 13/4d.
- A half sovereign was a gold coin worth half a pound, or 10
- A florin was originally a coin from Florence, Italy. The British
florin was a silver coin worth two shillings (10 p today).
- A silver shilling (also called a bob) was worth 12 d, and is now equivalent to 5 p.
- A crown was worth 10 d; thus a half crown, 5 d. (There were
silver crown and half crown coins.)
- A silver sixpence coin (also called a tanner) was worth 6 d, now
equivalent to 2.5 p.
- Thruppence is three pence (3 d).
- Tuppence is two pence (2 d).
- A ha’penny was a half penny, both a bronze coin and a unit of
- A farthing was one-fourth of a penny, both a bronze coin and a unit
of account. It was withdrawn in 1960, being such a small value.
- Seven and six means seven shillings and sixpence, written 7s 6d, or
- There were also bank notes. A fiver is a five-pound note.
- Morning dress (for men) consists of:
- a morning coat, also called a cutaway
- a vest (called "waistcoat" by the British), which may be
either single-breasted or double-breasted
- a pair of formal striped trousers, worn with suspenders (called
"braces" by the British)
- a shirt with French cuffs (British: "double-cuffed")
- a stiff white collar
- an ascot tie (called a cravat by the British) or necktie (at
weddings, a cravat affixed with tie pin is worn with a wing-collar
- black dress shoes
- a black silk or grey top hat
- gloves of suede, chamois, or kid leather
- a cane
- Formal evening dress for men properly comprises:
- Black swallow tail coat with silk (ribbed or satin) facings, sharply cut-away at the front
- Black trousers with a single stripe of satin or braid in the US or two stripes in Europe; trousers are never to have belt loops, but are always worn with
suspenders (known as braces in the UK)
- White stiff-fronted cotton piqué shirt
- White stiff-winged collar
- White bow tie (usually cotton piqué)
- White low-cut waistcoat (usually cotton piqué, matching the bow tie and shirt)
- Black silk stockings
- Black patent leather pumps or shoes
George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856, moved to England in
1876, lived the rest of his life there, and died in 1950. He is primarily known
as a playwright; his most famous plays include Arms and the Man (1894), You Never Can Tell (1897),
The Devil’s Disciple (1897) , Caesar and Cleopatra (1898), Man and Superman (1902-03),
John Bull’s Other Island (1904), Major Barbara (1905), The
Doctor’s Dilemma (1906),
Androcles and the Lion (1912), Pygmalion (1912-13), and Saint Joan (1923).
Oscar Strauss’s musical adaptation of Arms and the Man, called The
Chocolate Soldier (1908), was popular, but Shaw detested it, and he forbade
any further musicalization of his work. Thus My Fair Lady could not be
made until after Shaw’s death.
Shaw used his work, particularly his plays, to promote his political beliefs,
usually through the vehicle of humor. He was a socialist, although not a
Marxist; Shaw believed socialism should be brought about without violence.
Thus he one of the founding members of the Fabian Society, which sought to
promote socialism through gradual (usually democratic) means. At age 25, he
became a vegetarian. He was a passionate advocate for the rights of women and
for the working class. He also was a eugenicist, and wanted only the best of
society to breed. He ardently opposed the First World War, although that cost
him much support. After the war, he became impatient with the democratic
process, and tended to admire Mussolini and Stalin. He went to the Soviet Union
and met Stalin, praising his "reforms", despite evidence of mass
murder. Another of his interests was spelling reform, which he employed to a
limited extent in his writings--one can see that in Pygmalion.
He willed a portion of his estate to promote a new alphabet for English, but the
legacy was too small, until it began to expand, ironically, when My Fair Lady
became a hit!
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe wrote Life of the Party (1942),
What’s Up? (1943), The Day Before Spring (1945),
Paint Your Wagon (1951:
My Fair Lady (1956:
Gigi (film: 1958;
stage version adapted from the film, 1973),
and The Little Prince (film: 1974).
My Fair Lady was such a huge success, that tickets for their next
Broadway production, Camelot, were sold out for several months before it
opened. It was no My Fair Lady, but it still achieved international
Additional places mentioned in Shaw’s Pygmalion, but not in My
- Drury Lane, where Eliza resides at the start of the play, is also
the site of the Drury Lane Theatre.
- Earls Court is where the Mrs Eynsford-Hill lives, with Freddy and
his sister Clara.
- Epsom, where Mrs Eynsford-Hill is from, as Higgins detects by her
accent, is located just south of Greater London, in Surrey County, and is
the site of the famous Epsom Downs racecourse, and the original source of
Epsom salts, there being mineral springs in the area.
More information and another glossary can be found at this
- Last updated: 7/4/2008; revised 04/29/2018.
- For additions, suggestions, corrections,
or comments on this glossary, please email me: tf_mcq
- Return to the TAP My
Fair Lady main page.
- Return to McQ’s theater page.