I found this in a Sherlock Holmes book. It says "I object to rows, because my nerves are shaken" I can’t completely understand what it means.

Book bought from amazon kindle store named "Sherlock Holmes Complete Collection" This sentence is included in chapter 1 of "A Study in Scarlet" called "Mr. Sherlock Holmes"

Complete paragraph is

"What have you to confess now? It's just as well as for two fellows to know worst of one another before they begin to live together.” (said Holmes)
I laughed at this cross examination. I keep the bull pup, and I object to rows because my nerves are shaken, and I get up at all sorts of hours, and I am extremely lazy. (Said Watson)

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    @user1176409 - The title of the book is 'Study in Scarlet', but that is not immediately relevant. Commented Jun 18 at 10:42
  • I'm sad to say that his question has been asked before. I wonder why it didn't turn up among results while the OP was composing their question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 18 at 19:44
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    If that is the version of the paragraph in the edition that you have bought, then it's an appallingly bad edition. Since I didn't understand what "I keep the bull pup" meant, I went back to the source. It can be found in Project Gutenberg at gutenberg.org/files/244/244-h/244-h.htm . The relevant passage is 14 paragraphs from the end of Chapter 1. The text is different in several ways from your quote. Commented Jun 18 at 19:57
  • The part of Watson's statement I struggle with is "I keep a bull pup" ('a', not 'the' in the edition I have), but google tells it means having a bad temper. Commented Jun 19 at 11:23
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    @StrangerToKindness - According to annotated editions I have read, the jury is out on what ACD meant by that. There is no further mention of Watson owning a dog. Commented Jun 19 at 12:02

1 Answer 1


The word which is spelled row has two main meanings as a noun; they are homographs (words which have the same spellings, but different pronunciations):

  1. Pronounced to rhyme with 'no', 'go', 'so', etc - a number of people or things in a more or less straight line.

  2. Pronounced to rhyme with 'now', 'how', 'cow', etc - a loud noise, also a noisy argument, quarrel or dispute. This usage is mainly found in British English. This is the meaning of the expression in the Sherlock Holmes story. The speaker cannot stand loud noises because of their 'shaken nerves' (anxiety or mental fragility caused by some previous shocking or traumatic experience, in this case Doctor Watson's war service in Afghanistan).

  • @PaulTanenbaum - I remember being considerably mystified about a 'tow-headed boy' that I encountered in some old novel when I was about nine (so 1961). My parents weren't a lot of help, and my class teacher at school had to consult a colleague. Commented Jun 18 at 11:05
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    The 'previous experience' being Watson's war service in Afghanistan, which included a bullet wound and a severe illness. Commented Jun 18 at 12:09
  • Thank you for a very clear answer
    – M.Hasitha
    Commented Jun 18 at 13:15
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    I disagree somewhat - "row" means simply a loud noise or commotion here, not an argument or dispute. In the following lines, Holmes asks if Watson "include[s] violin-playing in [his] category of rows", merely referring to the racket made by the instrument but not implying any kind of disagreement. Objecting to an argument isn't really a character flaw that two prospective roommates might need to discuss, but one objecting to simple noise made by the other is. Watson is saying he can't stand loud noises because of his PTSD, not that he hates arguments. Commented Jun 18 at 20:16
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    @NuclearHoagie - agreed. I have amended the answer. On reading your comment, I immediately thought of the song 'Jollity Farm' by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: All the little pigs, they grunt and howl/The cats mee-yow/The dogs bow-wow/Everybody makes a row/Down on Jollity Farm. Making a row and having a row are not the same. Commented Jun 18 at 20:32

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