Sherlockiana is a wide open hobby. At out best, wee can enjoy discussing Sherlock Holmes with someone who just walked out of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows as much as comparing the plots of "Red-Headed Leage" and "Three Garridebs." We do like to test ourselves and occasionally invite faux gate-keeping into our world, like Frank Morley's original BSI crossword or the Beacon Society's Fortescue Scholarship Exams, but none of those are ever seriously used to weed out the novices. Those are primarily for those of us who have been around a while and want to see how fast our Sherlockian car will go.
Yet there is one test that we game-playing Sherlockians tend to take without realizing it, a test that some have occasionally tried to keep away from the newbies for fear it will frighten them off. And yet the test remains, and eventually, most pass it without evening realizing they did. No degree, no applause, no ceremony. You just are no longer troubled by that longtime Sherlockian system we call . . .
The Jay Finley Christ abbreviations.
Four letters for each of the sixty stories in the Canon. ABBE, 3GAB, CHAS . . . each of them bring to mind a full story title in the mind of a Sherlockian seasoned in the traditional scholarship. It actually has two levels, too -- the first being when you recognize CHAS as "Charles Augustus Milverton," and the second being when you want to abbreviate "Charles Augustus Milverton" and go "Oh, CHAS," instead of "CHAR, maybe?"
We rarely lay out a list and go, "Put the title next to each abbreviation," or vice versa, but there can come a time when you're just comfortable with them. And it doesn't come quickly, the same as in learning any field's specific buzzwords. Do they frighten off fresh, young Sherlockians? I sincerely doubt it. If you're the kind of person who can't stand ENGR in an article about Victor Hatherley, you're probably not the kind of person who wants to read an article about Victor Hatherley to begin with. And if you love "Engineer's Thumb" enough to want to learn more about Victor freakin' Hatherly, the pet name of "ENGR" probably is just going to be one part of your intimate bonding to that case.
The Christ abbreviations have raised their four-letter heads up again big time with Paul Thomas Miller's "Chapter and Verse" version of the Sherlockian Canon. If just the abbreviations were going to frighten people away with their arcane nature, "SIGN1:14" (Don't look that up, I picked it at random.) is going to make those same delicate folk soil their drawers. But that's okay. No shame on needing Depends in this day and age. You can still be a Sherlockian and we'll let you in.
But magic needs its mysteries, its hidden knowledges, and the tales of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson are indeed magical. The mark of a certain sort of adept at one branch of that magic is knowledge of those silly four-letter codes. It's just a mile marker you pass along the way, and not a toll gate that you have to complete to pass through.
A test we sometimes take without knowing we're taking it . . .