The Sherlock Holmes stories were roughly released around 120 years ago; they were released serially and not all in the same years, so that’s why I say roughly. People talked differently back then. Also consider that Sherlock is British and not all of us are British. Why do I point that out? Well, Mrs. Hudson gets knocked up in the Sherlock stories. I know, I wasn’t expecting it either. I mean, who’s the daddy? Is it John? Is it Sherlock? Probably not Sherlock. Lestrade? Moriarty? Mycroft? Haha! Mycroft, he wouldn’t know what to do with a woman. Moriarty knocking Mrs. Hudson up would be a neat twist to the story. I kind of figured Mrs. Hudson was too old to have babies, but maybe she’s only like forty.
What? What do you mean that’s not what went on?
Oh, ok, well, apparently in the Sherlock stories getting knocked up means that someone woke you up by knocking on your door. See that’s totally not what I was thinking when the story says Mrs. Hudson was knocked up.
That’s ok. We say things differently in different countries. I hear that in England they actually say “up the duff” instead of “knocked up.” Honestly, neither of them are a good description for an unexpected pregnancy.
Let’s move on. This has been a great example of how language usage is different between countries that speak the same language, but also of how language evolves. Words that mean one thing today, may not have meant the same thing 120 years ago, such as the word “nice.”
The word I really want to go after is “ejaculate.”
Why? Well, John, who is our narrator of the Sherlock stories uses this word quite a bit. When I read this word, I don’t think of the same thing that John meant. I think of something entirely different, that often has absolutely nothing to do with the story.
It would be a good idea to explain what the word meant to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Arthur was a doctor and would have been familiar with the usage of the word that we’re thinking of, but that’s not how he was using it. He was using it in the old-fashioned Latin sense.
The good old-fashioned Latin definition of this word is, “to utter abruptly.”
Ejaculate is from the Latin Ejaculari, which means “to shoot out.” The “e” part of that means “away,” or, “out.” Like the word “eject.” The jaculari part of the word means “the hurl a javelin.” Somewhere along the lines someone decided to put an “e” in front of “jaculari” to create the verb “ejaculari.” Then somewhere along the line after that, it came to be a word that would define sudden outbursts, you know, like Freudian slips. I get why the word means what it means in the medical sense.
The problem with all of this is that we use the word ejaculate almost purely to mean expelling a substance rapidly from the body, mainly semen. None of us go around saying the word “ejaculate” to mean an outburst.
For example, if you were recounting a story to your friends you would say something like, “Well, then Tiffany blurted out that Andrea was fat and then that’s when the fight started.” You would not say, “Well, then Tiffany ejaculated that Andrea was fat and that’s when the fight started.” It just sounds dirty. If you did say that, you would be using the word correctly, but everyone is going to look at you and think you’re a pervert. It’s not exactly PC to use the word how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the word, at the very least, it’s not to be used in that manner in polite conversation, but for the life of me, I don’t know how you would use the word “ejaculate” in polite conversation at all. This is not a polite conversation.
Here’s a tip from me to you–if you cannot imagine saying a word or a phrase to the Queen of England then it’s probably not polite conversation.
So how grievous is Arthur’s usage of the word ejaculate? I have a tally of how many times each form of the word appears in the Sherlock stories.
That’s a total of 23 usages of some form of the word “ejaculate.” Let’s compare that to me. This post is the most times I’ve used the word “ejaculate” in my writing. I actually don’t recall writing the word “ejaculate” in relation to anything, except the Sherlock Holmes stories. I just haven’t had the need or occasion to use the word very often.
So, yes, words change meanings over the years. We have to remember that people talked a heck of a lot differently 120 years ago. It’s the whole reason reading Shakespeare seems so odd. They talked all kinds of screwed up when Shakespeare was around. In fact, English has evolved so much we have three major versions of it old English, Middle English, and our modern English. The word we’re talking about isn’t even English, it’s Latin. So somewhere in history the true English word that means the same thing as “ejaculate” has fallen out of favor. I tried Googling the Old English word for ejaculate for you guys by the way, but I came up empty. So if one of you out there know it please comment.
So, no, John isn’t talking about having lots of orgasms, but if you wanted to read it that way, go ahead, it injects some humor into the whole series.
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Essays, Sherlock Holmes