Glossary

Several terms and phrases in the ‘Alice’ books were well known at the time of writing, but nowadays their meaning is less known. Also, to people who did not grow up in the UK or don’t have English as their native language, some words or expressions may be unknown. Furthermore, Carroll sometimes used unorthodox spelling, which may confuse some readers. This glossary explains those words and expressions.

Note that information about Carroll’s unorthodox use of punctuation marks can be found elswhere on this site.

Are there more words you don’t know and you think need to be on this list? Let me know!

A

A cat may look at a king (AAiW, chapter 8) – Proverb, meaning that inferiors have certain privileges in the presence of superiors. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

As sure as ferrets are ferrets (AAiW, chapter 4) – Apparently this was a current phrase in Lewis Carroll’s time. (source: Heath, P., “The Philosopher’s Alice”, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1974)

B

Bathing machine (AAiW, chapter 2) – Bathing machines were roofed and walled wooden carts. They were dragged into the sea and allowed people to change from their daily clothes into swimwear, and to enter the sea directly from the cart. This was especially useful for ladies, because it enabled them to bathe decently.

Bathing machines

Breath of bale (TTLG, prefatory poem) – Breath of sorrow (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

C

Catching a crab (TTLG, chapter 5) – Rowing slang, which means dipping the oar too deeply in the water, causing the boat’s motion to make the handle hit the rower’s chest so hard that he becomes unseated. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

Chimney piece (TTLG, chapter 1) – In American English this is called ‘the mantle’. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

Comfits (AAiW, chapter 3) – Hard sweetmeats made by preserving dried fruits or seeds with sugar and covering them with a thin coating of syrup. (source: Gardner, M. “The annotated Alice, the Definite Edition”, Allan Lane, The Penguin Press, London, 2000)

comfits

Cucumber frame (AAiW, chapter 4) – A kind of greenhouse, consisting of a glass frame meant for growing cucumbers. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

D

Deal box (TTLG, chapter 8) – A box made of fir or pine wood. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

Draggled (AAiW, chapter 3) – The more usual term used in this situation is ‘bedraggled’. (source: Carroll, L., “Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015)

F

Fender (AAiW, chapter 2) – A low metal frame or screen between the hearthrug and an open fireplace. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

Flappers (AAiW, chapter 9) – The word ‘flippers’ would be normally used. (source: Carroll, L., “Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015)

Frumenty (TTLG, chapter 3) – a wheat pudding, usually prepared with sugar, spice, and raisins. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

frumenty

G

Going messages (AAiW, chapter 4) – This phrase means ‘running errands’. It is still used in Scotland. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

L

Limed twigs (TTLG, chapter 8) – Twigs smeared with birdlima or another sticky substance, so birds can be caught when they sit down on them. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

M

Much of a muchness (AAiW, chapter 7) – an informal British expression, referring to things that are very much alike or have about the same value. It may also refer to any other sort of sameness in a situation. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

Murdering the time (AAiW, chapter 7) – Mangling the song’s meter (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

R

Rowland’s Macassar-Oil (TTLG, chapter 8) – An unguent for the hair, grandiloquently advertised in the early part of the nineteenth century, and represented by the makers (Rowland and Son) to consist of ingredients obtained from Macassar. (source: The Oxford English Dictionary)

S

Sal-volatile (TTLG, chapter 7) – Smelling salts (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

Shingle (AAiW, chapter 10) – The portion of the seaside where the beach is covered with large rounded stones and pebbles. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

Skurried (AAiW, chapter 2) – The usual spelling is ‘scurried’. (source: Carroll, L., “Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015)

Sugar-loaf (TTLG, chapter 8) – A cone shaped hat. The name is based on the fact that in the middle ages, refined sugar used to be formed into conical chunks called sugar loaves. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

T

Teetotum (TTLG, chapter 5) – A small top, currently known as a ‘put-and-take top’, which was often used in Victorian children’s games. It has flat sides, labeled with letters or numbers, and can be spun around. When the top stops spinning and drops to its side, the side that is up indicates what the player is to do. The letter T on one of the sides stood for the Latin word ‘totum’, indicating that the player took all. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

teetotum

Toffy (AAiW, chapter 1) – This is an unorthodox spelling of the word ‘toffee’. Carroll used it in the first edition of the story, changed it to the more common spelling in 1867, and then changed it back in 1897. (source: Carroll, L., “Elucidating Alice. A Textual Commentary on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, introduction and annotations by Selwyn Goodacre, Evertype, 2015)

Tortoise (AAiW, chapter 9) – In the Victorian era, this word was usually used for land turtles, to distinguish them from sea turtles. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

Treacle (AAiW, chapter 7) – Uncrystallised syrup, made during the refining of sugar. Black treacle is also called moleasses. Golden treacle is a common sweetener and condiment in British cookery. (source: Wikipedia)

W

Wednesday week (TTLG, chapter 1) – A week after the coming Wednesday. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)

Whiskers (TTLG, chapter 1) – Sideburns. (source: Gardner, M. and M. Burstein, “The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary deluxe edition”, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2015)