There is a sentence in The Naval Treaty (one case included in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle):

He had, when he so willed it, the utter immobility of countenance of a red Indian, and I could not gather from his appearance whether he was satisfied or not with the position of the case.

What does this sentence mean?

In addition to the definitions of the individual words, I feel a cultural reference is being made here as well. What did Watson (or rather, Doyle) mean by this sentence?

  • Why the downvote?
    – IQAndreas
    Mar 27, 2015 at 21:42
  • 1
    not mine, but I'd guess the stereotype insulted someone. Also the label "red Indian". Mar 27, 2015 at 22:41
  • I've just added my downvote, and it's nothing to do with qualms over the term "Red Indian". I just think firstly it's common knowledge that Amerindian chiefs (along with poker players and Chinese politicians) are stereotypically associated with impassive faces. And secondly that the context makes it blindingly obvious even if you didn't already know this. Mar 27, 2015 at 23:00
  • 1
    Litcrit is clearly off topic on ELU. And this is litcrit.
    – Kris
    Mar 28, 2015 at 5:59
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers it may fall under common knowledge for those aged 45 and upwards but nowadays the "Cowboy and Indian" film genre, so beloved between the 1950s and 1970s, is now very dated. Young European folk don't really know how (N. American) Indians (i.e. Native Americans) were portrayed in the past.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 28, 2015 at 7:30

1 Answer 1


"Red Indian" is an old-fashioned, politically incorrect term for a Native American. One stereotype of Native Americans is that they're very stoic, possibly due to Edward Curtis's series of photographs of Native Americans with stern, serious expressions. (Of course, it's thought now that Curtis posed them in stereotypical ways to achieve the effect he wanted.)

So saying someone has the immobility of countenance of an Indian means that his face is still; he's not showing any emotion, like a stereotypical Native American.

  • Just call them Indians: they themselves do so, and who are we to tell them how they call themselves?
    – tchrist
    Mar 27, 2015 at 22:53
  • 2
    Some of them do; some of them don't. There are hundreds of different tribes, so naturally opinions differ.
    – Nicole
    Mar 27, 2015 at 23:10
  • 2
    Most ethnic groups despise being stereotyped into any homogenized quality description--including what they prefer to be called :-)
    – ScotM
    Mar 27, 2015 at 23:37
  • I believe Red Indian is a term more commonly found in the UK, or at least was at one time. I am thinking of Peter Pan, for example. Mar 28, 2015 at 2:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.