Entering the Drawing Room – Colloquial Terms for Earnest

teaThe London Society (note the capital “S”) of Oscar Wilde’s time obeyed strict rules of propriety, especially in the upper classes Wilde is targeting poking fun at in The Importance of Being Earnest. The following terms are provided to help you navigate the British drawing room culture more smoothly.

NOTE: There may be some confusion regarding the difference in Gwendolyn’s and Lady Bracknell’s names. British peers like Gwendolyn’s father would have both a family name and a title. In this case, the family name is Fairfax. Wilde does not use his first name, as that would be wildly improper, so we’ll just invent one for him: George. Therefore, Gwendolyn’s father would be Mr. George Fairfax, Lord Bracknell. He is married to Augusta Moncrieff Fairfax, Lady Bracknell. Lord and Lady Bracknell would be referred to by their titles in society and by their names only by family. Gwendolyn, as the eldest daughter, would be Miss Fairfax, since she does not hold the title. Jack and Algy are gentlemen without titles, so they are Mr. Worthing and Mr. Moncrieff.


morning-room – informal sitting room for daytime use

salver – serving tray. Personal cards, tea items, mail, etc. were usually offered on a salver to the gentleman or lady of the house by a servant

Scotland Yard – headquarters of the London metropolitan police

sent down – asked to escort a lady to the dining room

crumpet – a small, unsweetened cake cooked on a griddle and usually served toasted

Grosvenor Square – residential area for the well-to-do

Liberal Unionist – member of England’s Liberal Party opposed to home rule for Ireland

Tories – members of England’s Conservative Party

purple of commerce – wealthy businessmen who were given titles in the late Victorian period

cloak-room – room where luggage can be checked

the Empire – popular theater and amusement hall

smoking jacket – a man’s lounging jacket, usually of velvet or silk, for wear at home


Mudie – a lending library in London

Evensong – evening worship service

buttonhole – flower worn in a lapel buttonhole (no gentleman would go without one)

portmanteau – leather suitcase

dog-cart – open, horse-drawn carriage, originally with a special seat for a hunting dog

lorgnette – handheld eyeglasses attached to a handle


terminus – British term for a station located at the end of a transportation line

Court Guides – books containing the names and addresses of people in high society

Funds – government bonds of Great Britain

Oxonian – student at or graduate of Oxford, a prestigious English university

Anabaptist – religious group founded in the sixteenth century in Switzerland who believed in adult, rather than infant, baptism

perambulator – baby carriage

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