The NYT Spelling Bee today contains the letters in condign, which I know from the Gilbert & Sullivan (well, Gilbert) lyric in The Mikado’s famous “short sharp shock” trio. Poo-Bah sings “With grief condign, I must decline” to be executed in Ko-Ko’s place.

It occurred to me, as the Bee was quite properly rejecting it, that I had no idea what it meant. That is, I always vaguely assumed Poo-Bah was indicating, in the most Poo-Bah way possible, that his grief was substantial, but I had never looked it up. Nor have I ever, to my recollection, ever heard or read the word in any other context.

So, in case anyone else is in the same boat, condign means, more or less, worthy or fitting. So Poo-Bah is not so much saying that his grief was intense, as that it was the amount of grief appropriate to the occasion.


One Response to “condign”

  1. -Ed.

    I should add that the word appears twice in the works of Shakespeare, and that therefore I have seen the word in other contexts—not, however, to my recollection. And to be fair, one of those is Armado in Love’s Labours Lost, so it scarcely counts as a word in the English language.



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