I keep a bull pup [STUD]

The new Sherlock Holmes film has revived a minor controversy that has puzzled students of The Canon for quite a while. This is brought about by the existence in the film of Gladstone, a young bulldog.

In A Study In Scarlet when Holmes and I first meet at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and we are discussing whether we could share lodgings, we each list our shortcomings. Amongst mine I mention that I kept a “bull pup”.

Many have pointed out that this “animal” is never mentioned again. The reason for that is that no such “animal” existed!

The bull pup I referred to was my army revolver. Such short-barrelled, high calibre revolver is often referred to colloquially as a “bull pup”.

As some others have realised, a domestic pet was impossible on Afghanistan, illegal on the Orontes, inappropriate for a private hotel, and invisible in Baker Street!


6 Responses

  1. Mike Grant says:

    I’ve heard it said that “I keep a bull pup” is 1880s Indian Army slang expression which means “I have fits of quick temper”

    • Scott Ryan says:

      The “army slang” theory is due entirely to Jacques Barzun, who published it in his book _Simple And Direct_. He’s a fan of detective fiction and a dedicated Sherlockian, and as far as I’ve ever been able to determine, he just made it up.

      • Molly Carr says:

        Jack Tracy in his Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana also mentions this expression
        but doesn’t, as far as I can see, give his source. Although Farmer’s Dictionary is included in the bibliography.

  2. Lasse Hoff says:

    Firstly, it seems strange that Watson should list “owning a gun” as one of his “shortcomings” or bad sides, and that it should be the first to spring to his mind.
    Secondly, did Holmes forget Watson’s firearm? Later in the story he asks Watson, “Have you any arms”?

  3. Joe Gladney says:

    The mystery continues…

    Just this evening a friend used the term “Bull Pup” (or “Bullpup”) while discussing a particular rifle and my ears immediately pricked up. Turns out a BP refers to the configuration of some rifles and I surmised that it could refer to a hand gun as well (my friend wasn’t sure) and that’s probably what Watson meant by his “bull pup” comment. Although if it was that simple, I wonder why I’ve never heard that explanation before and I wonder too why Watson would, as Lasse points out, consider owning a firearm a short coming?

    • The Good Doctor says:

      I was referring colloquially to my army revolver as I thought someone might be concerned about sharing rooms with someone who kept a gun.


Leave a Reply

RSS Feed