Thinking like Sherlock

sherlock“By a man’s finger nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boot, by his trouser knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt cuffs — by each of these things a man’s calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent enquirer in any case is almost inconceivable.”
~Sherlock Holmes A Study in Scarlet

Ah, Sherlock. I’m so glad season 3 in your latest iteration is finally on TV. The game is afoot in my imagination.

Our lives are filled with symbols. Literally filled. Two of the oldest are the nod and the shaking of the head as stand-ins for yes and no. In sociology, the study of human social behavior,  these simple body gestures are symbols of communication. The interesting thing about those two, they’re nearly world-wide in understanding. That shows you how truly old they really are. Gestures are nonverbal information and they happen consciously and subconsciously.

Of course I understand them as a human, but the writer I am sees potential in the fact they happen consciously and subconsciously. Just knowing that puts my mind in Sherlock mode. As Sherlock Holmes would say, “Give me details!” The literary world is full of body language — from pacing and nervous twitches to head-scratching perplexity and  come hither glances.  I could go on…

I think I will!

Body language from head to toe collar
I started this post with the idea of doing a head to toe run-down of gesture symbology. But after I’d composed all of the following, I saw dozens more in my mind. I’ve decided to change it to head to collar. Otherwise I’d be working on it all day! I can’t do that, I have a novel in progress that needs my attention.

Head tilt – interest
Prolonged tilt – boredom or impatience
Head in hand – boredom or focus
Head in two hands – overwhelmed or listening with deeper focus
Head bowed, eyes raised – coy invitation
Head clasping, elbows high – wondering what to do next
Hair twirling or fiddling – insecurity,  lack of confidence, sexual overtones
Hair tossing – look at me!
Hair pulling – frustration
Brow furrowing – a moment of confusion or deep thought

Brow raising – astonishment
Brow flick – acknowledgment or greeting
Forehead slap – sudden understanding
Face palm – exasperation
Face to face – sincerity or aggression
Knitted brows – anxiety
One brow raised – doubt
Fingertip to the temple – contemplation
Blinking – disbelief or astonishment
Dilated pupils – desire
Narrowing eyes – doubt or suspicion
Rubbing the eyes – doubt
Wide eyes – surprise
Eye rolling – exasperation
Eye crossing – fed up
Side eye – wary
Long eye closing – stop what you’re saying
Wincing – embarrassment or revulsion
Blank stare – unable to follow the thought
Looking down – embarrassment
Looking away – discomfort
Eye to eye – sincerity
Doe eyes – desire
Wink – share a secret
Eye batting – you want me don’t you?
Fluttering blink – nervous or aroused
Prolonged eye contact – sexual attraction
Head to toe perusal – overtly sexual – I like what I see
Rubbing the point between the eyes – weary or negative evaluation
Eyebrow fiddling – contemplating
Ear folding or tugging – Indecision
Nose wrinkling – something distasteful
Pinching the nose  – distasteful as in that stinks
Rubbing the nose – you don’t like it
flared nostrils – excitement: positive or negative
Sharp sniff – displeasure
Finger to the side of the nose – keep the secret
Hand to cheek – evaluation
Inflating cheeks on a breath – buying time to decide
Lip licking – enjoyment
Lip worrying (biting) – anxiety
Finger to lip – enjoyable thoughts
Thrusting lip – a pout
Pursed lips – contemplative or annoyed
Finger to lip tapping – thinking and deciding
Tight lips – annoyance
Lip twitch – suppressed humor
Smile – happy
Frown – disturbed
Tongue poking – deep concentration
Sticking out the tongue – cheeky petulance
Running a tongue over the lips – potential enjoyment or I want you
Clenched teeth – anger
Baring teeth – aggression
Teeth tapping together – thought in process
Teeth tapping with fingernail – boredom
Yawn – tired or bored
Clenching jaw or jaw tic – suppressed anger
Jaw drop – stunned
Biting inside of cheek – holding back
Grimace – regret
Scowl – deep negativity
Stroking chin – thinking or making a decision
Thrusting chin – obstinate
A neck scratch in conversation – lying
Massaging the neck – working a problem or a show of attraction
Pulling collar – I’ve been found out

Holy cow. And that just involves the head! I’m sure I’ve missed some. There are so many ways to silently communicate. Other nonverbal gestures involving hands and body stances say even more. For the most part they’re universal symbols. Again, their universal understanding suggests they are beyond ancient to our species. Interesting to note: There are places in the world where your A-Ok or thumbs-up hand gesture would be taken as an insult. There are also places where your nod means no. In Korea, you must be careful how you smile. I  have to wonder how anomalies of this sort came to be.

A few interesting places to learn more about gestures~


Tomorrow ~ More!


Another 100 Things Blogging Challenge! For 100 days, I’ll post something from my chosen topic: Words on the Verge of Extinction. There are 77 entries to come.

Here’s one for today:

Kexy (adjective commonly seen 1608-1884)

dry, brittle, withered

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About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
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8 Responses to Thinking like Sherlock

  1. melissakeir says:

    Pointing at people is also considered bad form in some cultures. You should upload this list into the files on the yahoo group for us. As writers, this is a great resource!

  2. Ray G says:

    I f I am caught looking at a female in a car ahead or beside me at a light I many times get a hair toss. As soon as I get it I look elsewhere so it doesn’t get too obvious.

    I spend lots of time people watching at Starbucks reading or talking to those around me. Almost every time I look up and glance at a woman walking by I get a smile. It has to be subconscious because I don’t know most of those who don’t stay.

    These tells give me something else to look for. Great blog.

  3. What a list! There’s a nuanced meaning in everything we do. I heard recently to watch out for when people say yes but shake their heads no, or say no but nod their heads yes… apparently it’s the nod or shake that tells the truth, not the spoken word. Have you heard this before? I started noticing it then and was amazed!

    • I’ve heard of that as a trick that breaks the social conditioning habit women have of always saying yes. You nod and say, I’m sorry I can’t help you. Or I’m sorry I don’t have time to do that for you. It’s pretty amazing how much we give away about what we’re thinking by doing the simplest things.

  4. rosgemmell says:

    What a great list for only one part of the body – so many give-away nuances that we aren’t aware of! I love the new, modern series of Sherlock.

    • I do too! It’s the best iteration of Sherlock Holmes since Jeremy Brett captured the essence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character so completely. I’ve read those original stories inside out so it’s really fun to see the innuendo and story bits tucked in here and there. Too bad there are only three episodes. I hope they continue.

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