having a useful function
Surely such a
utilitarian occupation as the watering of flowers is rather Moulton’s duty than yours? Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures await you. Your German grammar is on the table. Pray open it at page fifteen. We will repeat yesterday’s lesson.
Wilde was known for preferring beautiful things to utilitarian ones. Here, the playwright mocks both preferences. Cecily prefers doing something useful to promote beauty rather than learning something useless that makes her feel ugly. In these words, Miss Prism unintentionally supports the view that learning German is useless and ugly: despite calling it an intellectual pleasure, she contrasts it with the useful watering of beautiful flowers and focuses on the repetition of grammar lessons.
the way a person behaves toward other people
Your guardian enjoys the best of health, and his gravity of demeanour is especially to be commended in one so comparatively young as he is.
silly or trivial
Idle merriment and triviality would be out of place in his conversation.
This statement by Miss Prism shows how little she knows her employer and how good Jack/Ernest Worthing is at leading the double life. "Idle" also means "lacking a sense of restraint or responsibility"--which describes Jack half the time when he is in town as Ernest; and it means "not having a job"--aside from being Cecily's guardian, Jack doesn't seem to have anything else stopping him from pursuing the merriment that he pays for through incomes from investments and lands.
uncertain in purpose or action
I do not think that even I could produce any effect on a character that according to his own brother’s admission is irretrievably weak and
having a cheerful, lively, and self-confident air
[Enter Algernon, very gay and
"Debonair" also means "having a sophisticated charm"--in contrast to the restricted country life of Cecily, Algernon could seem more worldly, refined, or appealing. Having heard of his wicked ways, Cecily is frightened in an excited way to finally meet the person she's been writing about in her diary.
pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not have
I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be
not sensible about practical matters
It is rather
Quixotic of you.
"Quixotic" is an eponymous adjective based on the Spanish novelist Cervantes' character Don Quixote, who is so intrigued by the romance of noble deeds he'd read about that he sets out to do them, but as a middle-aged country gentleman rather than a trained knight, he fails miserably and comically. In saying these words to Algernon, Cecily is telling him that she thinks his suggestion to reform himself for her is romantic but unrealistic.
someone who dislikes people in general
misanthrope I can understand—a womanthrope, never!
a newly invented word or phrase
Believe me, I do not deserve so neologistic a phrase.
In Greek, "neo" means "new" and "logos" means "word"--Dr. Chasuble, as a scholar, shudders at Miss Prism's invention of the word "womanthrope" but he could also be shuddering at the declaration that he should get married. This is suggested by his last name, which is actually a real word that means "a long sleeveless vestment worn by a priest when celebrating Mass."
a doctrine that is taught
precept as well as the practice of the Primitive Church was distinctly against matrimony.
And you do not seem to realise, dear Doctor, that by persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation.
an expression of sympathy with another's grief
Mr. Worthing, I offer you my sincere
yielding readily to or capable of
I myself am peculiarly
susceptible to draughts.
Dr. Chasuble means that he, like Ernest who supposedly died of a severe chill, is susceptible to a current of air ("draught" is the British spelling of "draft"). Wilde is punning on "draught" to suggest Dr. Chasuble is also susceptible to "a serving of drink, usually alcoholic, drawn from a keg." This is evident by the previous line that "none of us are perfect." Another pun, although rather meaningless, could be on the British recognition of "draughts" as the game of checkers.
a cause of great suffering and distress
You would no doubt wish me to make some slight allusion to this tragic domestic
affliction next Sunday.
fearful expectation or anticipation
You need have no
apprehensions. Sprinkling is all that is necessary, or indeed I think advisable.
characterized by or causing or expressing sadness
[Cecily goes towards Jack; he kisses her brow in a
the reestablishment of cordial relations
It’s pleasant, is it not, to see so perfect a
A large part of the humor in this line is situational, since Jack and Algernon are not actually estranged brothers who need to reconcile, and Jack is shaking Algernon's hand only because Cecily is threatening to never speak to him again if he doesn't. There is also visual humor: while Dr. Chasuble talks about a perfect reconciliation, Jack is glaring at Algernon in a manner that is not in the least cordial ("diffusing warmth and friendliness).
steadiness of mind under stress
It is always painful to part from people whom one has known for a very brief space of time. The absence of old friends one can endure with
the lack of knowledge or education
Worn out by your entire
ignorance of my existence, I determined to end the matter one way or the other, and after a long struggle with myself I accepted you under this dear old tree here.
characterized by undue haste and lack of thought
impetuous boy he is!
The definition of "impetuous" makes it sound like an insulting adjective. But Cecily does not intend it that way, since this line comes directly after Algernon kisses her and rushes off to see Dr. Chasuble and before these lines: "I like his hair so much. I must enter his proposal in my diary."
having unsuitable feminine qualities
And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully
effeminate, does he not?
characterized by effort to the point of exhaustion
My dear guardian, with the assistance of Miss Prism, has the
arduous task of looking after me.
highly attractive and able to arouse hope or desire
But I am bound to state that now that I know that you are Mr. Worthing’s ward, I cannot help expressing a wish you were—well, just a little older than you seem to be—and not quite so very
alluring in appearance.
openly straightforward and direct without secretiveness
I think that whenever one has anything unpleasant to say, one should always be quite
extreme distress of body or mind
It would distress me more than I can tell you, dear Gwendolen, if it caused you any mental or physical
anguish, but I feel bound to point out that since Ernest proposed to you he clearly has changed his mind.
disgrace or shame
Whatever unfortunate entanglement my dear boy may have got into, I will never
reproach him with it after we are married.
going beyond what is appropriate, permitted, or courteous
feel extreme irritation or anger
[Enter Merriman, followed by the footman. He carries a salver, table cloth, and plate stand. Cecily is about to retort. The presence of the servants exercises a restraining influence, under which both girls
offensive to the mind
Gwendolen. [With elaborate politeness.] Thank you. [Aside.]
Detestable girl! But I require tea!
with a sneer; in an uncomplimentary sneering manner
Superciliously.] No, thank you. Sugar is not fashionable any more.
a crafty and involved plot to achieve your ends
To save my poor, innocent, trusting boy from the
machinations of any other girl there are no lengths to which I would not go.
without change, in every case
My first impressions of people are
expressing extreme contempt
[They retire into the house with
Well, the only small satisfaction I have in the whole of this
wretched business is that your friend Bunbury is quite exploded.
"Wretched" also means "very unhappy; full of misery"--both definitions fit the situation because Jack thinks that Algernon is morally reprehensible ("deserving severe criticism and censure") for pretending to be Ernest so that he could sneak into his country house and get closer to Cecily. Jack is also very unhappy that his lie about being Ernest had exploded in both their faces, which led to the scornful looks from both Gwendolen and Cecily.
kindness in welcoming guests or strangers
What ideas you have of