Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THERE ARE lots of memorable utterances of Sherlock Holmes, and a goodly number of other ones attributed to this world’s greatest consulting detective—but incorrectly.

Here’s a sampling from each category.

“The game is afoot.” Holmes actually said this. At the beginning of “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange,” he awakens Watson by saying, “Come, Watson, come. The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”


“Come, Watson, come. The game is afoot.” Illustration by Sidney Paget.

Holmes cribbed “the game is afoot” from no less than William Shakespeare. In The First Part of Henry the Fourth, Henry Percy the Earl of Northumberland tells his son Hotspur, “Before the game is afoot, thou still let’st slip.”

Later, in King Henry the Fifth, the king rouses his troops with the immortal words, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends… the game’s afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’ ”

Heady, stuff, this.


King Henry V Before Harfleur, by James E. McConnell.

I chose “The Game is Afoot” as the name for the SimanaitisSays category devoted to Sherlockiana in the broadest sense, concerning the Canonically real Holmes as well as fictional detectives, Kumedera Donjō, Sam Spade and Paul Temple among them.

“Elementary, my dear Watson.” Nope. Holmes never said this; well, not exactly. In “The Adventure of the Crooked Man,” Watson does relate the following conversation: “ ‘Excellent!’ I cried. ‘Elementary,’ he said.”

Close, but no Trichinopoly cigar.


The Return of Sherlock Holmes, 1929.

The phrase, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” comes from the 1929 movie, The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Following The Jazz Singer by only two years, this flick justifiably hyped “A Paramount ALL TALKING Picture.”

“Quick, Watson, the needle.” Admittedly, Holmes was something of a cokehead. But he never used this phrase in expressing his boredom with a temporarily law-abiding London.

We can blame this misquote on Hollywood too. In the 1939 Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes portrayer Basil Rathbone came close to originating the quote with “Oh, Watson, the needle!”


The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1939.

In “The Sign of the Four,” Watson offers the following exchange: “Which is it today, morphine or cocaine?”

Holmes responds, “It is cocaine, a seven-per-cent. solution. Would you care to try it?”

Before you think of Holmes as the Baker Street pusher, be aware that such drugs had yet to become anathema in the late 19th Century. What’s more, a solution of seven percent was not a particularly potent one. In 1907, the British Pharmaceutical Codex defined a standard injecto Cocainæ Hypodermica  at 10.0 percent.


“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”  This excellent advice of sleuthing is pure Holmes, from “The Sign of the Four.” It is fundamental to his exemplary use of deduction, quite distinct from his knowledge of the classic sciences.

Early on, in “A Study in Scarlet,” Holmes says to Watson, “You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”


From a drop of water, a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other.” During “A Study in Scarlet,” Watson objects to this claim appearing in a magazine he’s reading.

Slapping the magazine down on the table, Watson cries, “What ineffable twaddle! I would lay a thousand to one against him.”

“You would lose your money,” Sherlock Homes remarks calmly. “As for the article I wrote it myself.”

So, in a sense, Holmes did come up with this one. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

4 comments on “AND THEN HOLMES SAID…. OR DID HE?

  1. Michael Dobson
    November 17, 2021

    Enjoyed reading this article. Thank you for taking the time to present it.

  2. haydn60
    April 30, 2022

    I’ve just helped crack (!) a famous misattribution, posting in a thread about Sherlock Holmes containing speculations of its origin:

    I have before me the exact phrase, “QUICK WATSON THE NEEDLE MUTTERED HOLMES IN A WHISPER?” It’s the caption of an S.J. Perelman woodcut published in Judge during 1925-1931 & available in the collection That Old Gang Of Mine. It does indeed appear he was riffing on Geisel’s Flit ads. The accompanying text reads,

    There have always been a lot of “Wise Crashers” down in good old Far Rockaway, but Sherlock Holmes (age 12, 174 Beach Boulevard) is the “Wisest.” Said he to a friend recently, “I hit father with my car the other day.” “Well, father was getting on,” rejoined the boy friend. “I know,” shot back Sherlock, “but I crumpled the mudguard!” Wasn’t that a honey of a reply?

  3. haydn60
    April 30, 2022

    Update: Edit: Pie on my face. The article I responded to was so convincing, referencing a famous series of Dr. Seuss ads (beginning in 1928), I was shocked to find an earlier instance. There’s a story called, “Hicks, Accidental Detective (Another Bannister College Story)” by J. Raymond Elderdice, appearing in the March 1915 (10 cents) issue of (checks notes) Boys Life??? It starts on pages 2-4 & is continued on page 37. I’ve cued it to page 39:… . To paraphrase the final line, “It only goes to show that what one dummy can not accomplish — the same one can!”

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