Hi I’d like to ask about the sentence from The Devil’s Foot by Conan Doyle.

“Against the charge of killing Mortimer Tregennis.” Sterndale mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. “Upon my word, you are getting on,” said he. “Do all your successes depend upon this prodigious power of bluff?”

This is when Holmes was prosecuting an antagonist who he thought to be the perpetrator. Could anyone paraphrase the antagonist’s wording “You are getting on” here? Is this like “You’re getting on (my nerves)”, that is, you’re annoying? Or I heard “to get on” can mean “to get old”, so the antagonist is bluffing like “You’re getting old and have lost the edge Holmes, because you’re way off the base”?
Or the antagonist is being sarcastic and saying “You are doing very good!” by this phrase? I don’t know. Can anyone tell me how I should interpret the phrasal verb “get on” in this context please? Thank you in advance.

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    Some phrasal verbs from the 19th century have a very different meaning to the current usages. Ex. Watson: "...sorry for knocking you up at this hour." Don't remember the exact episode, but Watson was talking about waking up Holmes early by banging on the door. Mar 17, 2020 at 16:29
  • Good question! It seems like such a natural expression, but when you think about it, Sterndale’s meaning could be more than one thing.
    – user205876
    Mar 18, 2020 at 0:57

1 Answer 1


I read this as using the phrase getting on to mean "moving forward" or "proceeding". I agree with you that there is a bit of sarcasm intended, with the implication Holmes is "getting ahead of himself" or making apparent progress in some endeavor based on assumptions that might turn out to be untrue, and thus the progress might need to be reversed.

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    Upon what do you base these assumptions? Mar 17, 2020 at 16:20
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    @EdwinAshworth, it's a very common definition of get on, for example, on dictionary.com it's listed as item 45 under the head word get.
    – The Photon
    Mar 17, 2020 at 16:59
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    But there are other senses of 'get on', as suggested by OP. While I agree that this seems most likely, I'd say it remains moot, POB. Mar 17, 2020 at 19:22
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    Mr. Photon is quite right I believe. An equivalent phrase would be "getting along", meaning moving towards the intended goal, in this case conviction.
    – Elliot
    Mar 17, 2020 at 21:32

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