McMurdo’s Camp


Trifling Abridgment Observations-Christ’s Abbreviations of the Sacred Writings  (or TAO ABBR)

by Keith Albrandt

In his 1947 chronological work dating the Canon, Dr. Jay Finley Christ included in his penultimate chapter an abbreviated, four-letter notation for the fifty-six short stories and four novels set forth by the good Dr. Watson through his literary agent A. Conan Doyle.i Many Holmesian and Sherlockian scholars subsequently accepted and embraced their usage as shorthand for the story titles in their subsequent writings upon the writings.ii “Christ’s concept is quite simple,” observes Sherlockian Joseph Dierkes,

just take the first four letters of the main word in the title of each story, and ignore the “the Adventure of” part. . . . With a little practice, their usage becomes almost second nature, and once a newcomer has read through the Canon, he or she will find these abbreviations most useful when referring to different stories.iii

By way of example: “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge” becomes WIST (or Wist); “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” is abbreviated BRUC (or Bruc); and The Hound of the Baskervilles is simply HOUN (or Houn) in its truncated notation.

As Matilda (Bill Briggs) of McMurdo’s Camp observes, CHAS, the Christ abbreviation for “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton,” deviates from the scheme of using the first four letters of a main word in the full title. The only other non-numerical example of this deviation is ENGR for “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb.” We concur with Matilda that the CHAS abbreviation undoubtedly reflects the common abbreviation for the name “Charles.” However, what to make of ENGR? Whilst The Oxford English Dictionary prefers “engin” as the abbreviation for “engineer,” its five letters precluded its adoption within Christ’s scheme. Truncating it by one letter immediately suggests ENGI as an alternative. Nevertheless, given Dr. Christ’s position as a professor of business law it is not in the least surprising that he chose ENGR in lieu of ENGI as the appropriate abbreviation for “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb;” both the Association of Legal Writing Directors (AWLD) and The Bluebook, the definitive style guide for legal citation in the United States, cite “engr” as the appropriate legal abbreviation for “engineer.”iv Moreover, “engr” is also an abbreviation for “engraved or engraving” and hence suitable on another level as the appropriate abbreviature for a story revolving about counterfeit half-crowns produced utilizing engraved dies.v

The second apparent inconsistency in Christ’s scheme involves those stories harboring a cardinal number within their title. “The Five Orange Pips” and “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” are both abbreviated without the use of a numeral (FIVE and SIXN, respectively) whereas “The Adventure of the Three Students,” “The Adventure of the Three Gables,” and “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs” each utilize the numeral three in their abbreviated form (3STU, 3GAB, and 3GAR, respectively).

The explanation for Christ’s choices for these abbreviations is trivial once we recognize his professorial tenure was at no less an august institution than the University of As a published author and esteemed member of the faculty Professor Christ was undoubtedly intimately familiar with the 10th edition (1937) of the University of Chicago’s Manual of Style: Containing Typographical Rules Governing the Publications of the University of Chicago, Together with Specimens of Type Used at the University of Chicago Press, edited by Mary D. Alexander. According to the current edition of this classic work, whole cardinal numbers from one through one hundred, as well as ordinals, are spelled out in nontechnical contexts.vii Ergo, Christ’s choice of FIVE and SIXN for the cardinal number stories as well as SECO for the ordinal-containing “The Adventure of the Second Stain.” Nevertheless, it proves problematic to extend this rule to trio of cases containing “Three” in their title, as the four-letter limitation results in an identical THRE abbreviation in all instances. One might consider abbreviations circumventing the numerical designation altogether but immediately find that “The Adventure of the Three Students” would thereby be limited to STUD consequently running afoul of A Study in Scarlet (STUD). Consequently, Dr. Christ turned to the seemingly paradoxical beauty of the Chicago system-consistency with flexibility:

. . . maintain consistency in the immediate context. If according to rule you must use numerals for one of the numbers in a given category, use them for all in that category. . . . however, items in one category may be given as numerals and items in another spelled out.viii

Hence, Christ’s designation of 3STU, 3GAB, and 3GAR for “The Adventure of the Three Students,” “The Adventure of the Three Gables,” and “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” respectively.

Jay Finley Christ’s Canon abbreviation’s prove neither capricious nor inconsistent upon close inspection and reflection. Based upon scholastic and legal precedent, they provide readers and scholars of the Sacred Writings a useful tool that at once identify the stories and provide a useful mechanism for concise reference to the same. Moreover, they apparently far surpass Holmes’ own system (described in SUSS) wherein his index under “V,” whilst logically containing files on Vittoria, the circus belle, Vanderbilt and the Yeggman, Vipers, Vigor, the Hammersmith wonder, and Vampirism, was also the home of entries on the voyage of the Gloria Scott, Victor Lynch (the forger), and venomous lizards (gila), logically belonging in completely different dockets (unless Watson failed to mention Holmes’ extensive practice of cross-indexing). Regardless, recent additions to the abbreviations originally blazed by Jay Finley Christ encompass the Apocrypha and pastiches, expanding upon and demonstrating the lasting utility and durability of Christ’s original contribution.ix


 Jay Finley Christ, An Irregular Chronology of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street (n.p.: Fanlight House, 1947), 77-79.

ii The use of Christ’s four-letter story abbreviations is widespread but not universal. Noted Sherlockian Brad Keefauver writes: “Steve Rothman, editor of The Baker Street Journal, implemented a policy of not using the Jay Finley Christ abbreviations for the Holmes stories in that publication, then proceeded to introduce this change with a rather inflammatory editorial denouncing the four-letter codes. Christ’s simple four-letter codes have been a part of Sherlockian scholarship and The Baker Street Journal since their original proposal in 1947, and after fifty-five years, are as ingrained in most of us the original stories themselves. . . . While Rothman seemed to primarily be addressing contributors to the Journal, he also seemed to be seeing this change in the Journal’s policy as the forerunner to a general ending of use of the Christ abbreviations.” Brad Keefauver, “Case of Evil and a Case of Disagreement,” The View from Sherlock Peoria, 27 Oct. 2002, Sherlock Peoria,
ViewSP102702.html (accessed 13 Apr. 2009).

iii Inspector Hopkins [Joseph Dierkes], “Good Old Abbreviations,” The View from the East End, 12 Feb. 2006, Sherlock Peoria,
Hopkins2006/Hopkins021206.html (accessed 13 Apr. 2009).

iv “Term Abbreviations for Bluebook and ALWD,” LegalCitation.Net, http://www (accessed 13 Apr. 2009).

v University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 573.

vi “Hounds of the Baskerville [sic]: A Brief Historical Summary,” The Hounds of the Baskerville [sic], (accessed 13 Apr. 2009). In the interest of full-disclosure, the author holds a M.S. degree from the University of Chicago.

vii University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 380-81.

viii Ibid., 381.

ix“The Abbreviations,” Diogenes Club, (accessed 13 Apr. 2009).

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