Wednesday, 16 September 2009


I have just finished reading a complete set of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. And what a read they were! A series of great stories, well told by a master story-teller. I had read a couple of the stories when I was a teenager, but I freely admit that I had not appreciated them - my mind was more tuned towards stories of derring-do. Since then, my mind had been polluted by the varying standards of the TV and film adaptations (I am awaiting with apprehension Guy Ritchie's latest film, Sherlock Holmes, which I have the most tremendous fears for).

It was therefore with joy that I reacquainted myself with the series. They really are superb, and well deserve their reputation. It was a long read - 1,400 pages of small type in a large book - but it was well worth the perseverance. Very few, if any, of the collection of stories were disappointing.

The stories and writing led me to consider several things. Amongst these was the way that the English language has changed over the last hundred years. A while back I was chatting to someone about dialogue attributions, and I said that it always amused me when I saw 'ejaculated' used as an attribution in old texts. He had never seen it, and I had to admit that I could not recall where I had last seen it.

Well, the 'Sherlock Holmes' series of books are filled with them. Here are some examples that caused me to snigger:
  • "What on earth does this mean?" I ejaculated ...
  • "Not the Countess of Morcar's blue carbuncle!" I ejaculated.
  • "It was a confession," I ejaculated.
  • "My dear Holmes!" I ejaculated.
  • "Joseph!" ejaculated Phelps.
The problem is that the verb has two meanings. The first is, well, the one used commonly nowadays. The other is to utter something suddenly. Both of these come from the same historical root; to eject suddenly.

Obviously such usage of the verb was perfectly normal at the time, but it would be thought odd to write any of the above nowadays, Indeed, it probably could not even be safely used in a historical piece set in that period.

Of course, it should be used. So I say freely ejaculate when you write! Ejaculate from the rooftops! Ejaculation is good!

Or, on a more sexual note: "Oh God, I'm coming!" he ejaculated...

Yes, you can see the problem.

On a more sensible note, if you wish to read Sherlock Holmes' books and you do not want them in dead-tree form, I suggest going to the 'Project Gutenburg' website and downloading them.

Also, whilst writing this piece I found a good website on Sherlock Holmes - the Sherlock of Peoria website.

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