In the beginning of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", while Holmes and Watson are on the train, we see this line:

We had the carriage to ourselves save for an immense litter of papers which Holmes had brought with him. Among these he rummaged and read, with intervals of note-taking and of meditation, until we were past Reading. Then he suddenly rolled them all into a gigantic ball and tossed them up onto a rack.

The pun is that after they are past Reading, he stops reading. So: was this pun intentionally placed by Doyle?

  • 1
    A good answer to this would probably analyse as supporting evidence the question of whether the Holmes stories in general include hidden puns and wordplay. (I don't think they do, but I'm not confident enough of that to make an answer of it.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 7, 2017 at 18:55
  • Reading was, and still is, one of the top three busiest railway stations outside London. It is an obvious place to name that his readers would recognise.
    – Chenmunka
    Jul 14, 2017 at 12:37

2 Answers 2


In my own multiple (and recent) readings of the complete novels and stories of Sherlock Holmes, I see Holmes noted for a direct, rather dry style of verbal delivery. Watson, the narrator in this passage, has a more romantic cast on his interpretation of events, but also tends to stick to the facts, as he sees them.

I can't rule out the possibility of "Reading" being a play on words, but the lack of puns in the rest of the Canon would make it unlikely, perhaps even unintentional.

There is an immense amount of material written on all facets of the Sherlock Holmes stories. The following blog, http://www.sherlockian.net/ is just one of hundreds of examples.

I found one source directly pertinent to this question:

How much wordplay is in the "Sherlock Holmes" stories by Arthur Conan Doyle?

Karen Murdock has been studying the various figures of speech and rhetorical techniques in the 60 Holmesian tales, collectively called "the Canon". She notes a use of zeugma when Watson reports in The Hound of the Baskervilles: "All afternoon and late into the evening he [Holmes] sat lost in tobacco and thought." ("Lost in Tobacco and Zeugma", Canadian Holmes, Summer 2004, p. 3).

Murdock notes that puns and other humorous forms of word play are not found in the Canon.

However, that doesn't mean that there is no intended pun here. Personally, I believe it likely that it IS intended, however rare other such Canon examples may be, simply because authors tend to use words with a purpose.


I think that the Sherlock Holmes canon is, in fact, loaded with puns. Two of my favorites are:

  1. In "The Engineer's Thumb", the word "sponge" is used first to describe the engineer's castrated hand and then for Watson's action:

    There were four protruding fingers and a horrid red, spongy surface where the thumb should have been. It had been hacked or torn right out from the roots. [...] I sponged the wound, cleaned it, dressed it, and finally covered it over with cotton wadding and carbolized bandages.

  2. In "A Case of Identity" we are told that the daughter would go to the Gasfitters' Ball, but her stepfather argued against it, using the word "fit" in two different contexts:

    He said the folk were not fit for us to know, when all father’s friends were to be there. And he said that I had nothing fit to wear, when I had my purple plush that I had never so much as taken out of the drawer.

The hits really do just keep on coming. This would indicate that the pun in the question is indeed intended, because the sheer number of puns in the Holmes canon indicates that Doyle put them in intentionally.

  • While interesting, this doesn't really answer the question about this specific pun. It should rather be a comment on Vekzhivi's answer.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 24, 2019 at 20:44
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    @Randal'Thor - I think this technically is an answer; it's saying that since we have examples of other puns in the Holmes canon, that it's highly likely that this pun, along with the others in Holmes canon, was intended.
    – Mithical
    Feb 24, 2019 at 20:47
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    @Mithrandir In that case, I've edited it to improve the answer with quotes and formatting.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 25, 2019 at 17:50

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