Detective fiction has left an indelible mark on our literary and cultural landscape, thanks to the unforgettable characters it has given us. From the inimitable Sherlock Holmes to the brilliant Hercule Poirot, these iconic detectives have entertained and enthralled generations of readers and viewers. But their influence extends far beyond the realms of fiction. In fact, their catchphrases and expressions have become part of our everyday language, often used without us even realizing their origins.
Take, for example, the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson". While it has become synonymous with Sherlock Holmes, it may surprise you to learn that the great detective never actually says it in any of the original stories. The closest he comes is in "The Adventure of the Crooked Man", where he uses both "Elementary" and "my dear Watson" separately. The two are not uttered together, with 52 words separating them. Nonetheless, the phrase became a cliché in the public press by 1901 and was firmly cemented into the Sherlock Holmes canon when actor Clive Brook uttered it in the 1929 film "The Return of Sherlock Holmes". It is believed that the great Sherlock actor and script-writer William Gillette was responsible, although these words never appear in any published version of the script.
On the other hand, "the game is afoot" is a phrase that Holmes did actually say in the original stories. It was used to announce to Watson that he had taken up the challenge of finding a killer: "Precisely Watson, and now the game is afoot." The saying first appeared in Shakespeare's "King Henry IV Part 1", written in 1597, but didn't gain popularity until the early 1900s with the widespread publication of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It wasn't until the mid-1950s, with the advent of detective television series, that the phrase truly made its way into everyday language.