sleuth / detective

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wolfbm1

Senior Member
Polish
Hello.

"Contrary to practice in police forces of many other nations, detectives are not automatically senior to uniformed officers and hold the same ranks. The head of the CID in most police forces is a Detective Chief Superintendent.

These ranks are common to most forces.
Detective Constable (DC or Det Con)
Detective Sergeant (DS or Det Sgt)
Detective Inspector (DI or Det Insp)
... "
Source: WIKIPEDIA: The Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

I don't think we can replace the word detective with the word sleuth in the above text.
I wonder what special meaning the word sleuth suggests. Most dictionaries define a sleuth as a detective.

Thank you.
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I regard "sleuth" as nothing more than a literary word for "detective", wolf. It certainly isn't a title that anybody uses in police departments or courtrooms here in the U.S.
     

    JordyBro

    Senior Member
    English - Australia
    Sleuth is a more decorative way of saying detective, like saying foe instead of enemy. You're more likely to hear foe or sleuth used in a book than a formal peice. Furthermore, detective is generally the term we use when describing the proffession. If you want to describe a proffessional sleuth, use detective.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I wonder if these sentences sound O.K:
    Sherlock Holmes was an amateur detective or sleuth.
    Colombo wasn't a sleuth. He was a professional detective.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    sleuth (n.) c.1200, "track or trail of a person," from Old Norse sloð "trail," of uncertain origin. Meaning "detective" is 1872, shortening of sleuth-hound "keen investigator" (1849), a figurative use of a word that dates back to late 14c. meaning a kind of bloodhound. The verb (intransitive) meaning "to act as a detective, investigate" is recorded from 1905. Related: Sleuthed; sleuthing.

    I suspect that the word 'sleuth' was popularised by writers of crime fiction. I don't remember ever hearing it said in normal conversation. It sounds literary.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    To me, a detective, unless otherwise qualified, = someone who earns his living as a police detective. This is neutral.
    Sleuth is someone who is very skilled in finding clues and drawing conclusions, often, but not always, in relation to a crime. Sleuth is positive but now usually used as a humorous/light-hearted complement.

    You can say of a person, "I don't know why he works as a detective, he is a useless sleuth."
    I wonder if these sentences sound O.K:
    Sherlock Holmes was an amateur detective or sleuth.
    Sleuth is not the right word to describe Sherlock Holmes, except in the broadest terms. Sherlock Holmes described himself as "a consulting detective." Today we would call him a private detective. He is not amateur as he was paid for his work.
    Colombo wasn't a sleuth. He was a professional detective.
    Colombo is a sleuth. He "is very skilled in finding clues and drawing conclusions, often, but not always, in relation to a crime." He is both a detective by occupation and a sleuth by skill.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    To me, a detective, unless otherwise qualified, = someone who earns his living as a police detective. This is neutral.
    Sleuth is someone who is very skilled in finding clues and drawing conclusions, often, but not always, in relation to a crime. Sleuth is positive but now usually used as a humorous/light-hearted complement.
    (...)
    Sleuth is not the right word to describe Sherlock Holmes, except in the broadest terms. Sherlock Holmes described himself as "a consulting detective." Today we would call him a private detective. He is not amateur as he was paid for his work. (...)
    Roberto Galea, the author of the article I am reading, thinks Sherlock Holmes is an amateur in comparison to Detective Inspector Greg Lastrade, who occasionally summons Holmes to solve some criminal cases:

    "Although Lestrade respects Holmes, and his methods, he is often surprised by the pronouncements of the amateur detective."
    Source: English Matters 49/2014 (a bimonthly). Article: "Elementary, My Dear Watson" by Roberto Galea. (Proofreading: Graham Crawford.)

    In the same article, he is also called a sleuth:
    "The Guinness Book of World Records says that Sherlock Holmes is the most often portrayed person in cinema.
    (...) The list of actors who have played the sleuth reads like a Who's Who of top cinematic talent. These include Sir Ian McKellen, ... "


     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I would not call "sleuth" particularly literary, since it is used frequently as a rather loose term for "investigators" of all types - certainly not limited to those searching for criminals.

    For example (from http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7591.html)

    Ancient Wine is a book that wine lovers and archaeological sleuths alike will raise their glasses to.

    As Owlman says, "sleuth" is not used officially in the U.S.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Although Lestrade respects Holmes, and his methods, he is often surprised by the pronouncements of the amateur detective."
    Source: English Matters 49/2014 (a bimonthly). Article: "Elementary, My Dear Watson" by Roberto Galea. (Proofreading: Graham Crawford.)
    Which just goes to show that Roberto Galea's understanding of English is not as good as he thinks it is. It is wholly wrong to describe Holmes as an amateur for the reason already given - he earnt his living by detective work.

    Galea's use of "sleuth" is fine. Holmes was certainly a sleuth.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    You need to understand that in detective=sleuth, you're talking about common nouns. In the material you quote in post #1, "Detective" is an official title.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Galea's use of "sleuth" is fine. Holmes was certainly a sleuth.
    I don't know how you feel about the word, 'sleuth.' I see it as per #6. There is no denying that Holmes was a 'sleuth'[1] but whether he should be called that, to me, is doubtful - there is something 'non-technical' about the word. The word 'sleuth', see Galea in #7 above, seems to me a little out of place.

    [1] as I said, "in the broadest terms"
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I think "sleuth" is a pretty ordinary word which means "detective". I do not ascribe any more specific or profound meaning to it. Neither do the dictionaries I have looked in. I wouldn't be in the least bit bothered if somebody referred to Sherlock Holmes as a professional sleuth or Miss Marpleas as an amateur sleuth.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Thank you. everyone. :) I understand that both "sleuth" and "detective" are ordinary words. I can forget about the etymology of the noun sleuth. There is something 'non-technical' about the word.
     
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