The Best of Sherlock Holmes

 

Sherlock Holmes Quotes:
The Ten Most Famous Quotations from the Holmes Stories

By Randall Stock

 

Writers quote Sherlock Holmes almost every day in the newspapers and online.  The public recognizes and repeats some of his most familiar phrases.  This page now lists the top 10 most famous quotations from the Sherlock Holmes stories.


These are Conan Doyle's all-time best-known quotations.  While some sayings go in and out of style, these passages have stood the test of time.  Many will consider them to be the best Sherlock Holmes quotations; they are certainly the most famous based on more than 60 years of expert opinion from quotation specialists.

 

The Top 10 Quotes from the Sherlock Holmes Stories

 

    QuotationStoryStock
Score
1. "Excellent! I cried. "Elementary," said he.CROO100
2. You know my methods, Watson.CROO92+
3. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever...SIGN92
4. The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present...COPP84
4. London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers...STUD84
6. To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.SCAN82
7. It is the unofficial force—the Baker Street irregulars.SIGN76
8. The fair sex is your department.SECO74
9. ...the curious incident of the dog in the night-time...SILV68
10. They were the footprints of a gigantic hound!HOUN66

Click on a phrase in the above table to see more information about that quotation, including the source and some context.  Scores reflect both fame and longevity as noted in this explanation of the Stock Scale for Quotation Popularity.  Quotations that have been popular for a long time, and that are well-known in both the U.S. and Britain, receive higher scores.

This website includes other "top 10" lists for the best Holmes stories, the best Basil Rathbone movies, the best Sherlock Holmes gifts, and more.

Complete Quotation References
The following passages come from the 1,122-page single-volume Doubleday edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  The underlined portions denote the core quotations.  However, Bartlett's and Oxford sometimes include slightly longer or shorter phrases in their various editions.

#1:  "Excellent! I cried. "Elementary," said he.

Sherlock Holmes never said "Elementary, my dear Watson" in any of the stories by Conan Doyle. However, that phrase has been used frequently in the movies and was even mistakenly cited in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations for 1937 and 1948. The actual quotation is as follows:

     "I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson," said he. "When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom."
     "Excellent!" I cried.
     "Elementary," said he. "It is one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to his neighbour, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction. The same may be said, my dear fellow, for the effect of some of these little sketches of yours, which is entirely meretricious, depending as it does upon your retaining in your own hands some factors in the problem which are never imparted to the reader.
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893)
     Watson and Holmes in "The Crooked Man" (Doubleday p. 412)

Top 10


#2:  You know my methods, Watson.

This quotation appears in nearly identical phrases in at least five Holmes stories. While technically tied with the next passage, it's ranked second because early editions of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations included multiple appearances of this phrase.

"It seemed to me that a careful examination of the room and the lawn might possibly reveal some traces of this mysterious individual. You know my methods, Watson. There was not one of them which I did not apply to the inquiry. And it ended by my discovering traces, but very different ones from those which I had expected."
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893)
     Sherlock Holmes in "The Crooked Man" (Doubleday p. 416)

Top 10


#3:  When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever...

     "You will not apply my precept," he said, shaking his head. "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? We know that he did not come through the door, the window, or the chimney. We also know that he could not have been concealed in the room, as there is no concealment possible. When, then, did he come?"
     The Sign of the Four, ch. 6 (1890)
     Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four (Doubleday p. 111)

Top 10


#4:  The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present...

     "Good heavens!" I cried. "Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?"
     "They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."
     "You horrify me!"
     "But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser."
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     Sherlock Holmes in "The Copper Beeches" (Doubleday p. 323)

Top 10


#4:  London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers...

     I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air—or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. There I stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand, leading a comfortless, meaningless existence, and spending such money as I had, considerably more freely than I ought."
     A Study in Scarlet, ch. 1 (1887)
     Dr. Watson in A Study in Scarlet (Doubleday p. 15)

Top 10


#6:  To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.

     To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen.... And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
     The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
     Dr. Watson in "A Scandal in Bohemia" (Doubleday p. 161)

Top 10


#7:  It is the unofficial force—the Baker Street irregulars.

     At this moment there was a loud ring at the bell, and I could hear Mrs. Hudson, our landlady, raising her voice in a wail of expostulation and dismay.
     "By heavens, Holmes," I said, half rising, "I believe that they are really after us."
     "No, it's not quite so bad as that. It is the unofficial force—the Baker Street irregulars."
     As he spoke, there came a swift pattering of naked feet upon the stairs, a clatter of high voices, and in rushed a dozen dirty and ragged little street Arabs. There was some show of discipline among them, despite their tumultuous entry, for they instantly drew up in line and stood facing us with expectant faces. One of their number, taller and older than the others, stood forward with an air of lounging superiority which was very funny in such a disreputable little scarecrow.
     The Sign of the Four, ch. 8 (1890)
     Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four (Doubleday p. 126)

Top 10


#8:  The fair sex is your department.

     She looked back at us from the door, and I had a last impression of that beautiful haunted face, the startled eyes, and the drawn mouth. Then she was gone.
     "Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department," said Holmes, with a smile, when the dwindling frou-frou of skirts had ended in the slam of the front door. "What was the fair lady's game? What did she really want?"
     The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
     Sherlock Holmes in "The Second Stain" (Doubleday p. 657)

Top 10


#9:  ...the curious incident of the dog in the night-time...

     Colonel Ross still wore an expression which showed the poor opinion which he had formed of my companion's ability, but I saw by the inspector's face that his attention had been keenly aroused.
     "You consider that to be important?" he [Inspector Gregory] asked.
     "Exceedingly so."
     "Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
     "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
     "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
     "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
     The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893)
     Inspector Gregory and Sherlock Holmes in "Silver Blaze" (Doubleday p. 346-7)

Top 10


#10:  They were the footprints of a gigantic hound!

"But one false statement was made by Barrymore at the inquest. He said that there were no traces upon the ground round the body. He did not observe any. But I did—some little distance off, but fresh and clear."
     "Footprints?"
     "Footprints."
     "A man's or a woman's?"
     Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered:
     "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"
     The Hound of the Baskervilles, ch. 2 (1902)
     Dr. Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles (Doubleday p. 679)

Top 10



More Information

On Determining Quotation Popularity

Stock, Randall. "Quoting Sherlock Holmes: The Ten Most Famous Canonical Quotations." The Hounds' Collection volume 9 (2004), pp. 29-34.  This article provides some additional analysis and discussion of the top quotations, the ranking procedure and alternate ranking methods.

- NOTE: The Hounds' Collection is available from its publisher Bill Barnes at <bbarnes@ozemail.com.au>, from The Mysterious Bookshop at <mysteriousny@worldnet.att.net>, and from David Lenat, Bookseller at <lenatbks@mindspring.com>.


Now that you know the best quotations from the Holmes stories, be sure to read about The Best Sherlock Holmes Stories, the best Basil Rathbone Holmes movies and DVDs, the best Sherlock Holmes gifts, and more top-10 topics.

 


 

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