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Sherlockian or Holmesian - What do these terms mean now?


There was a time when these terms were readily understood. Their scope was nicely defined. Essentially both were terms for a person well versed in the world of Sherlock Holmes. This world was generally understood to comprise the canon of stories, television adaptations, movie outings, plays, scholarly writings and, to a certain extent, pastiche efforts.

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The more serious members of these ranks were also known to be members of related societies and, perhaps, contributed scholarly articles to learned society journals.

The principal difference between the two terms was that Holmesian was decidedly British (and perhaps formal) and Sherlockian was used across the pond.

In the latter stages of the 20th century the term Sherlockian began to be used more and more by British devotees to the extent where the two became interchangeable. It was, however, generally the case that the users of the American designation tended to be younger than the adherents of the British one.

Since the BBC's Sherlock has taken hold, the term Sherlockian has been appropriated in a way that Holmesian has not. Social media is full of people who describe themselves as Sherlockian. However, a significant number (not all) of these will have done little more than watched screen adaptations. In the UK at least, Sherlockian has effectively become a term for a fan of the BBC's series (and possibly the recent RDJ films) and Holmesian remains largely the term for the more scholarly devotee.

Given that usage is the ultimate arbiter, it seems that these two terms, which were once separated by geography rather than scope, are now effectively separated (in the UK at least) by scope rather than geography.

Curious...



9 comments:

  1. An interesting observation and I agree with your opinion that those calling themselves Sherlockians are probably fans of the BBC series. But should they discover the canon from there, they might turn into the future Holmesians.
    Another completely different approach is the phonetic aspect. Whereas I know how to pronounce Sherlockians, I'm not sure about Holmesian and would therefore always say I'm the first (I'm German), even though I know my canon.

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  2. Than let's just come up with a new word for the fans of the show 'Sherlock', which I think is excellent by the way.
    Over here, we Sherlockians still use the words geographically, and explain the usage as such.
    I agree with the way you put it. Thanks.
    How about Holmie?
    No, I don't think so.

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  3. Though I had read and enjoyed the ACD canon (and the Granada series) before watching the BBC version, I have never felt that my interest was scholarly enough to call myself a Holmesian. That term, to me, connotes membership in the BSI, authorship of scholarly articles on canon, or the like. As I'm just a fan, I'm more comfortable with "Sherlockian". I suppose I'm really just agreeing with you here.

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  4. I think that, like Trekkies, the fans of the television show should call themselves Sherlockies.

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    1. I think that's an excellent suggestion. It conveys both the extent of any academic knowledge (or even just having read the Canon) but isn't disrespectful.

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  5. Most of my American friends who like Sherlock call themselves "Cumberbitches"... Which makes me unsure of whether or not to take them seriously in any fashion.

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  6. Excellent post, and I love your blog's look! Getting the wallpaper from 221B is a perfect touch.

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  7. Well, as someone who has grown up on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I have always referred to myself as a Holmesian. Although I do enjoy the BBC's Sherlock series, My favorite screen adaptations remain the 14 Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movies (the radio theatre of the time is great too) and the Jeremy Brett series. As entertaining as performance adaptations are... the 2 volume "Complete Sherlock Holmes" compendium I first read in grade 5 maintains a special place in my heart. Whether you are just a Sherlockian or a full blown Holmesian, I think the important part is that you are enjoying Doyle's work. Thanks for this post.

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