"I SUBMIT FOR your inspection one John H. Watson: medical man, late British Army surgeon, raconteur, journalist, connoisseur of women, Knight of the Battered Tin Dispatch-Box, valiant and loyal friend.

He has suffered mightily at the hands of scholars and the public since the 1887 appearance of A Study in Scarlet in Beeton's Christman Annual, calumniated on the one hand as a tanglefooted incompetent and on the other as a boozy Bluebeard, to say nothing of sundry slanderous impostures his admirers have had to endure, beginning in 1905, when Sherlock Holmes and his indispensable biographer made their slient-screen debut. (We will ignore the 1900 vignette Sherlock Holmes Baffled , in which Watson was ungraciously not invited to appear.)"

It is used in book Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories.

  • Pretty sure it just means "clumsy" -- his feet tend to get tangled up. See, for example, Tanglefoot the horse. And there's this: "A clumsy, awkward person."
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 0:35
  • You need to include the essential parts of the link in the question as your question can become invalid if the linked page changes. Please edit your question.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 7:19
  • Is it correct now ?
    – nescius
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 13:15

2 Answers 2


On that sentence, he is describing a person and this person is seen a tanglefooted incompetent one.

Tangle: A confused mass of something twisted together.

Tanglefooted: Imagine a person trying to walk with legs crossing over each. He will surely fail after sometime.

Here, he emphasizes 'incompetent' by using tanglefooted meaning the person is extremely clumsy and inept.

  • I thought something similar when I read it the first time but I couldn't find it in any dictionary with this meaning. Thanks for the answer !
    – nescius
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 0:49
  • When you see a word like this next time, divide the word and try to imagine both words individually. You will probably get it. Even with phrasal verbs, you can imagine most of the actions they mean and you are welcome.
    – Grizzly
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 0:51

Your link is to an introduction written by Loren D. Estleman, and the clue to the meaning of "tanglefooted" is given later on the same page: "If a mop bucket appeared in the scene [of a movie based on the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle], his [Watson's] foot would be inside it..." etc. In other words, in early movies, Dr. Watson was portrayed as a bumbling, uncoordinated fool.

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