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Sherlock Can Read

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Sometimes, Watson gasps in shock that Holmes instantly deduced some secret. But Holmes didn't correlate a thousand minutiae to get his answer — he just read it on something.

One particularly common variant is having one character call another they don't know by name, then point out it was written on their person.

Compare to How Did You Know? I Didn't and You Just Told Me, but in both cases, Holmes is guessing; here, he knows for a fact. See Clue, Evidence, and a Smoking Gun and Phony Psychic.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Inverted, then played straight in Ranma ½, after Ranma pulls an Accidental Proposal on Shampoo (in accordance with the laws of her village), and she pulls out an old book to confirm the rules of engagement. Soun reads the text and becomes shocked at what he sees, only to reveal a moment later that he can't read any of it, because it's written in Chinese. Nabiki, then, gives it a once over, and confirms what Shampoo is saying is true. Ranma accuses her of not knowing Chinese either, to which Nabiki responds she doesn't have to know the language: there was a Japanese translation right next to the Chinese.
    Soun: And I missed that entirely!

    Comic Books 
  • In Baker Street #1, Susan arrives at Baker Street to apply for the flatmate position. Sharon Ford (the settings' equivalent of Sherlock Holmes) does a Sherlock Scan on her and deduces a number of things about her (she is a medical student, the university she is attending, etc.), including that she is American. Susan is astounded and asks Sharon if she deduced she was American from the clues she just listed. Sharon replies "yes", but adds that the accent was something of a giveaway as well.
  • From the pages of Doctor Strange: During the Loki: Sorcerer Supreme arc, Stephen recruits The Sentry to help stop whatever evil Stephen just knows Loki is plotting. They go to Wong's house, and he berates Strange for his dumb plan the moment he opens the door. Sentry is in awe at how in tune the two are that Wong was able to know about what Stephen was planning without him telling him, assuming there's some kind of Psychic Link at work. Stephen cuts him off with "I texted him".
  • The Wicked + The Divine: After passing out at a concert, Laura meets god Luci backstage. After seeing her do a Finger-Snap Lighter trick and address her by name, Laura asks if Luci used powers to guess her name.
    Luci: Yes, with mystical going-through-your-wallet powers.

    Films — Animation 
  • Done rather hilariously in Batman: Assault on Arkham when Amanda Waller manages to swiftly and easily answer The Riddler's quip about doors:
    The Riddler: ... Oh. You've heard that one before?
    Amanda Waller: No! I have Google! Just like the rest of the world!
  • Played with in The Princess and the Frog, where Dr. Facilier "deduces" Prince Naveen's identity from a palm-reading, while Lawrence looks in the bad doctor's back pocket and cynically notes the newspaper announcing the prince's visit there. Given that Facilier really does consort with supernatural forces, it's ambiguous whether this trope was played straight or not.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 1994 Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes Returns: After awakening, Holmes tells Winslow that after dealing with the newest Moriarty he should investigate the phantom tiger murder. When Winslow incredulously asks how he could possibly know about that, he picks up the newspaper lying on the coffee table and hands it to her. The banner headline reads 'PHANTOM TIGER MURDER'.
  • Firestorm (1998): After being rescued by Jesse, Jennifer pauses to check the bird eggs she was protecting. Jesse looks over her shoulder at the eggs, and then reels off the scientific name of the species. Jennifer is impressed by his ornithological knowledge. Until Jesse holds up the lid of the tin, which she had put to one side when she opened the tin, which has the species name written on it.
  • Leave Her to Heaven: Ellen tells Richard that she knows about him after reading his novel because every book is a "confession." She then rattles off a bunch of facts about his life, to which he bewilderingly responds, "Shades of Sherlock." But then she admits she just got all that from the bio on the book's dust jacket.
  • Night at the Museum: Sacajawea is asked to track down the thief of Akmenrah's tablet from the tracks in the snow. She immediately deduces that he tried driving away, but his car slipped on the ice and crashed. Larry is amazed at her tracking skill, until she points at the crashed car just a few yards away.
  • Now You See Me: Merritt's shtick is mentalism, which includes reading people's minds via their body language; he uses this on Henley at their first meeting to guess her name, but Danny points out that it's on her coffee cup. This also sets up Merritt and Danny's mild rivalry.
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes: When Holmes buys the last Napoleon bust off Mr. Sandeford, Sandeford asks him how he deduced that he possessed the bust and his address. Holmes replies that after the sculptor provided the names of the purchasers, he glanced at the sculptor's records and copied Sandeford's address down.
  • Robin Hood: The Rebellion: When the blind Friar Tuck addresses Robin Hood by name, Robin asks how he knew who he was. Tuck replies that the Lord may have taken his sight, but he still has his hearing and he had heard The Brute Brimstone call him Robin Hood during their battle.
  • In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Holmes walks into the mortuary just as Watson is starting an autopsy. He does a Sherlock Scan and then proceeds to tell Watson the deceased's occupation, general state of health and cause of death. He tells Watson that Mr. Dunlevy's autopsy will have to wait till tomorrow as they only have ten minutes to catch their train. when Watson asks how he knew the dead man's name, Holmes replies "It's written on his chart".
  • In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a young Dave ends up split off from his school field trip group and wanders into an antique store where he meets Balthazar. This exchange happens.
    Balthazar: I have something I'd like to show you, Dave.
    Dave: How'd you know my name was Dave?
    Balthazar: 'Cause I can read minds! (beat) It's on your backpack.
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Kirk and Spock are trying to find some humpback whales in 1984 San Francisco. Spock tries to use a map to figure out the best way to search the city, but Kirk immediately suggests that they can find two Humpback whales named George and Gracie at the Cetacean Institute in Sausalito. Spock asks him how he knows this, and he replies "simple logic", while pointing to an advertisement for the whale exhibit on a bus that just pulled up.

  • Out on an Indian reservation, a white motorist comes across a Native American lying on the road with his ear pressed to the ground. The motorist stops and gets out of his car, calling to the Native American, "Hey man, are you alright?". The Indian replies, "Shush! There is... a yellow 1985 Jeep Explorer, currently driving 30mph about three miles west of here, whose tires badly need rotating. The driver is a 30-year-old Cherokee named Sam, from the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Sitting next to him is his girlfriend, a 27-year-old woman whose name is Frances but goes by Fran. She is three months pregnant." The white motorist asks, astonished, "You know all that from listening to the vibrations in the ground?" The Indian looks up and says, "No, they chucked me out here about ten minutes ago."

  • Discworld:
    • In Feet of Clay, Cheery tells Vimes that he smokes Pantweed's Slim Panatellas — not through alchemical expertise, but by reading the packet on Vimes' desk.
    • In A Hat Full of Sky, Miss Level is astonished that Tiffany knows she once performed in a circus mind-reading act, until Tiffany reminds her she keeps the circus poster hanging in her hallway.
  • From Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when the main characters find an adult sleeping on the Hogwarts Express:
    "Who d'you reckon he is?" Ron hissed as they sat down and slid the door shut, taking the seats farthest away from the window.
    "Professor R. J. Lupin, " whispered Hermione at once.
    "How'd you know that?"
    "It's on his case," she replied, pointing at the luggage rack over the man's head.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • In "The Adventure of the Yellow Face", Holmes stuns the client of the day by giving his name before he'd introduced himself.
      Holmes: My dear Mr. Grant Munro—
      Munro: What! You know my name?
      Holmes: If you wish to preserve your incognito, I would suggest that you cease to write your name upon the lining of your hat, or else that you turn the crown towards the person you are addressing.
    • He gets called out on this in "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty," when he identifies a complete stranger as not being a member of the Phelps family. At first the man is startled, but then he realizes that Holmes has simply read the monogram on his pocket watch. "For a moment I thought you'd done something clever."
    • Subverted in some stories, in which, when Holmes explains his deductions, the client responds in much the same way, without realising that, while the conclusions might seem obvious given the observations, most people wouldn't have made the observations.
  • After Harry Dresden and Michael Carpenter make a Dynamic Entry in Small Favor, Dresden addresses a woman named Monica. She asks if they're angels (as it happens, Michael is a Church Militant with a holy sword), but he just points to her name tag.
  • The Thinking Machine: In "My First Experience with the Great Logician", Van Dusen performs a Sherlock Scan and is able to deduce his patient's name, address and profession; that he smokes; that he is wearing his clothes for the first time that winter; that he was widowed a few months earlier; that he kept house then; and that the house was infected with insects. After the narrator professes his astonishment, Van Dusen explains that the name, address, and occupation he got from the man's business card, which he read while he was unconscious. The other facts were actual deductions, however.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect find themselves aboard the starship Heart of Gold, Ford comments "I think this ship's brand new, Arthur." Arthur replies "How can you tell? Have you got some exotic device for measuring the age of metal?" "No," Ford says, "I just found this sales brochure lying on the floor."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Alien Nation, a Newcomer is killed in the opener by being tossed into the ocean. It's explained later that seawater is like acid to the Tenctonese. The victim's body is unrecognizable, but the detectives are immediately told his identity. When Sikes asks how they managed to do that given the damage to the body, he's immediately shown the victim's wallet, which is wet but otherwise fine. After all, just because seawater dissolves the body doesn't mean it suddenly does that to his clothes and property.
  • In one episode of Bones, Hodgins identifies the clothes a victim was wearing as having come from a church thrift store. Cam and Zack are dumbfounded that he is able to do that until he rips out a label from the clothing and shows it to them.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Played With: Drusilla discusses a vision that she's had, and while she probably did get the information with her powers, Spike reveals that he has a more cogent source for the same information:
      Angelus: You can see all that in your head?
      Spike: No, you ninny. She read it in the morning paper.
    • In a somewhat similar example: in the final episode, Angel is able to guess that Buffy and Spike have grown closer because he can smell him on her. Later, Spike says that he knows that she and Angel kissed; she assumes it's from the scent, but he sarcastically replies that no, he saw them with his vampire eyeballs.
  • CSI: Miami:
    • In "Dude, Where’s My Groom?", Ryan and Walter discover a stolen painting hidden underneath a valueless one. Walter, who studied art history, is trying to identify it from style and colour choice. He says that it could be a Cézanne, or someone from the Fauvism movement:
      Ryan: It's a Matisse.
      Walter: You studied the French masters, too?
      Ryan: No, it's signed.
    • In "By the Book", the crew is examining a bizarre crime scene. Dr. Tom Loman is examining the corpse when Ryan tells him that they don't have an ID yet. Tom casually says that she is Andrea Edison. Ryan looks amazed and asks Tom how he knows. Tom calmly replied that he found her ferry pass in her pocket and hands it over to Ryan.
  • Inverted in CSI: NY: In one of Adam's early forays into the field, he asks Danny a question about the victim as they approach the scene. Danny says the man fell from somewhere between the 6th and 10th floors but adds that if Adam had read the autopsy report, he would've already known that.
    Adam: You did *not* read Sid's autopsy report.
    Danny: No, Mac told me. That's how I do it.
  • Dead Man's Gun: In "The Bounty Hunter", would-be Bounty Hunter Raymond Jakes goes to Retired Gunfighter Otis for lessons. During their conversation, this exchange happens:
    Otis: You're a storekeeper, right?
    Jakes: *gasps* How did you know?
    Otis: *nods over Jakes' shoulder* The signage on your wagon.
  • Elementary's pilot episode has Sherlock Holmes explain how he uses the Sherlock Scan and deduction to learn things, having previously demonstrated it by determining various aspects of Joan Watson's background. Then she asks how he knew her father had had an affair.
    Sherlock: Google. [Beat] Well, not everything is deducible.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: A lab tech inspects the trash from a site where a girl was held prisoner. When she tells the detectives the type of sandwich the girl ate, Fin is amazed she could tell just from the crumbs. She then points out that she read the label on the discarded wrapper.
  • Mimpi Metropolitan: In their first meeting, Melani is surprised that Bambang know where she works when they just tell each other's names. Bambang says that he just read "Hits TV" written on her uniform.
  • On NewsRadio, Bill and Dave are in an airport returning from a convention. When an attendant greets Bill by name, Bill is flattered that his fame precedes him. Then Dave points out that Bill is still wearing his nametag.
  • Sherlock: Subverted in "The Blind Banker". When Sherlock mentions to an acquaintance that said man has been around the world twice in two months, he scoffs and asks if he deduced it from his shoes. Sherlock says he was just chatting with his secretary. Later, Watson asks him how he really knew, since he didn't talk to the secretary. Sherlock answers he deduced everything from the man's watch and just wanted to screw with him.
  • Spaced: Played straight, then given a twist, when a pair of Matrix-esque agents have doorstepped Brian, looking for Daisy:
    Agent 1: Can you tell us where she is, Mr. Topp?
    Brian: How do you know my name?
    Agent 1: It's written on the doorbell.
    Brian: ...Alright.
    Agent 2: Where is she, Brian?

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street: The LP Havin' Fun with Ernie & Bert has a track called "The Listening Game." Ernie blindfolds Bert and has him guess what certain sounds are. First Bert guesses a ticking alarm clock, and the sound it makes when Ernie winds it. Then Bert guesses a vacuum cleaner, and then a ping pong ball. When Bert guesses that Ernie is opening the cookie jar and eating a cookie, Cookie Monster comes into the apartment (from somewhere outside). Bert guesses that Cookie Monster had eaten the cookies, the ping pong ball, the vacuuum cleaner, the alarm clock, run out the door, ridden away on his motorcycle, and crashed into a truckload of chickens.
    Ernie: Why, that's fantastic! How did you know that, Bert?
    Bert: Easy. He ate my blindfold too.

    Video Games 
  • A variation from "Sherlock"s' perspective occurs in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Claudia learns that Edigio Troche might be an asset to Ezio's mission when the man visits the brothel she runs (and Ezio owns). Later, when Edigio is complaining to Ezio about his financial difficulties, Ezio brings up that he spends money on whoring. Edigio is impressed and Ezio lets him believe he performed a Sherlock Scan.

  • Freefall: Strip 2315: The final panel:
    Police Chief: The press. How did you know something was happening here?
    The press robot: Keen investigative instincts. Plus, I saw police throwing other police out the window.
  • Girl Genius: How Baron Wulfenbach divined the creator of a slaver engine. One of his underlings is impressed that he can apparently recognize the creator of the device from its design style, but he admits that in this case, it was easier than that — "The fool signed it!"

    Western Animation 
  • Done twice in the Toby Danger episode of Freakazoid!. First, after Dr. Sin activates the world's largest semiconductor, The Danger family finds the wreckage and Dr. Danger predicts that Dr. Sin will use the semiconductor to attack Las Vegas. When Dash asks how he knows Dr. Danger calls it a "scientific, scholarly guess", as the camera pans back to show Las Vegas under attack at that very moment but only the doctor can see it. The second time, Dr Danger is setting up a weapon to destroy the semiconductor in front of a hotel when he predicts that this hotel is the next target. When Dash ask how he can possibly know that, Dr. Danger casually says that every other place in town has been burned to the ground.
  • On Gravity Falls, the (mostly) Phony Psychic Gideon does this:
    Gideon: I'll read your mind if I'm able/Something tells me your name's "Mabel"!
    Mabel: [mystified] How'd he do that?
    [camera pulls back to show that "MABEL" is written on her sweater]
  • The Real Ghostbusters: A very literal example in one episode, where the team meets Sherlock Holmes (or at least his ghost) who immediately starts referring to them by name without being introduced.. because they all have said names printed on their jumpsuits.
  • The Simpsons: In "Lisa's Wedding", a fortune teller momentarily impresses Lisa by knowing her name.
    Fortune Teller: I've been waiting for you...Lisa.
    Lisa: [Gasp!] How did you know my name?
    Fortune Teller: Your nametag.
  • Static Shock: In a crossover episode, Batman rescues Static when he gets knocked out by the villains and takes him to the Batcave to recover. He calls Static "Virgil" when the latter awakens and Static compliments him on truly being the World's Greatest Detective. Batman then shows Static that his student ID actually fell out of his pocket and advises him not to carry it around while in uniform in the future.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Splinter reveals to the Turtles that the Technodrome has returned and is smashing everything in its path. They're shocked how he knows this. Was it a mystic revelation? He tells them, no, he saw it on the 5 o'clock news.
  • In an episode of The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, Granny is called in to investigate a haunting at the White House. She apparently recognizes the Vice-President, but, when he asks how, she admits that she read his name tag, which just said: "Hello, I'm Vice-President Obsequious."

Video Example(s):


Deduction 101

Agent 86 demonstrates how you figure out the origin of a package.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / SherlockCanRead

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