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Frequently (and forgotten) Asked Questions

Who is Cecil Adams, what is The Straight Dope, and other questions you forgot to ask.

Who is Cecil Adams?

Cecil Adams is the world’s most intelligent human being. We know this because: (1) he knows everything, and (2) he is never wrong.

How do we know that Cecil knows everything and is never wrong? Because he said so, and he would never lie to us.

No, really. Listen, read the columns. Soon you will agree this is no ordinary man.

What do you mean, “columns”?

You’re telling me the world’s smartest human being works for the newspapers? Well yes, he did. The Straight Dope originated as a weekly column in the pages of the Chicago Reader and is now owned and operated by the Chicago Sun-Times. The columns were later gathered into books; Ballantine has published five collections of his work. There was also a Straight Dope TV show aired on the Arts & Entertainment cable network. Today the columns continue to be read on this site in cyberspace. And we’ll be starting on the Cecil Adams biopic as soon as we can line up Sly Stallone.

You’re making this up. All right, the Sly Stallone part we made up. But the other stuff is real.

What was in the first Straight Dope column? Read for yourself.

How come I’ve never seen the Straight Dope in print? For a description of Cecil’s five books, check on Amazon and other places that sell books. Naturally, if you have not been reading the Straight Dope up till now, we urge you to buy all Cecil’s books immediately. This will enable you to make up for the wasted years.

When is the Straight Dope TV show on? It used to be on Sunday nights on A&E, but it was cancelled. Should the television industry realize the foolishness of this move and offer us a fat contract to bring SDTV back (we’re not holding our breath), rest assured we’ll announce it immediately on this site.

How does the Straight Dope column work?

People ask questions. Cecil answered them. It is not a complex concept.

Questions about what? Anything. Cecil knows all. Naturally, since he does not want to put his readers to sleep, he does not tell all. (We leave that to movie stars.) He prefers to confine his attention to questions that are interesting and funny, or sometimes just interesting. However, stupid but funny also has a pretty good shot.

Isn’t that what Ann Landers does? No, no, no. Advice columnists just try to get you through the day. Cecil is trying to eradicate world ignorance. He deals strictly with factual questions. Questions you’ve always wanted to know the answers to. Questions like: What are the real lyrics to “Louie Louie”? When they execute a guy by lethal injection, do they swab off his arm first? How do the astronauts go to the bathroom in space? We wanted to make that last one the title of one of the Straight Dope books, but Ballantine wouldn’t go for it. They also wouldn’t go for: “THE STRAIGHT DOPE – Third Book of Revelations.” Said it was too long to fit on the computers. Sure. We say they were scared of the religious right.

Has there ever been a question Cecil couldn’t answer?

Yeah, like he’d admit it. But it can honestly be said no question Cecil has seriously pursued has remained beyond his grasp. Admittedly some took longer than others. He got pretty frustrated trying to figure out how they got the M’s on M&Ms, because Mars, the manufacturer, refused to cooperate. Stonewalled us for years. It got to where we were about to put a guy over the wall. Luckily, just then Mars hired Hans to run the PR department. Hans believed in freedom of information and had a cool accent to boot. He explained the whole thing. Not that he was telling Cecil anything he didn’t already know. Nobody ever does.

Some questions, it must be conceded, lie beyond the veil of things known. For example, while Cecil did his best, he was never able to conduct a systematic search for the Vatican porn collection (i.e., to prove there wasn’t one). Also, we do not feel the last word has been written about the phenomenon of piss shiver. Although when we said as much to the management of the Chicago Reader, they said, “Wanna bet?” Just thought of another great book title Ballantine rejected. “Straight Dope 3-D.” Suggested by our friend Robert. He’s such a card.

Has there ever been a question Cecil WOULDN’T answer? Well, let’s see. He dealt in a grave and educational manner with the issue of why fecal matter is brown. Then there was the matter of the gerbils. And placenta stew. No question, we are definitely advancing the frontiers of civic discourse. But you asked if there was ever a question Cecil refused to answer on grounds other than that it was inane. We’re not going to answer every crackbrain question some comedian dreams up. In particular, if you ask one of the following, we’ll track you down and do things so bad they scare even us:

Why do we need a hot water heater? If it’s hot it doesn’t need to be heated. How can we have jumbo shrimp? Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way it sounds? Why do our noses run and our feet smell? Why does quicksand work slowly? Why are boxing rings square? Why, when lights are out, they are invisible, but when the stars are out, they are visible? Why do we call them apartments when they are all together? If cows laughed, would milk come out of their noses? Why does Denny’s have locks on the door if it’s open 24 hours? Why do ships carry cargoes and cars carry shipments? When will a building actually become a built?

How did the Straight Dope come to be?

It all started in February, 1973, in the Chicago Reader, now a titan of alternative journalism but then … well, a skinny titan. The column appeared without fuss or fanfare. This was Cecil’s preference. He wanted to start off small and then expand. Just like the universe.

Did Cecil have a vast army of assistants to help him with his research? No. On occasion he called his brother-in-law. He has also had the assistance of an editor, generally a feckless youth, plus an illustrator. For many years now the illustrator has been Slug Signorino, a legend in his own right.

About those editors. The first was Mike Lenehan. Mike was not feckless. Mike had fecks to beat the band. It may truthfully be said that Mike was something of a father figure to Cecil, who was then of tender years himself. Mike took the young genius under his wing, nurtured his gift, and made him what he is today. Often Mike, retired as executive editor of the Chicago Reader, looks back and thinks: Lord, this is all my fault. Even then, you see, Cecil was a handful. In print this evidenced itself as a certain attitude with regard to readers. Our favorite comment remains, “If ignorance were cornflakes, you’d be General Mills.” Or: “I’m going to explain this as well as I can, given the limits of my space and your attention span.”

But Cecil also took it out on his editor, so much so that after three years Lenehan bailed. The next editor was Dave Kehr. Dave hung in there for two years. At last, broken in spirit, he took to reviewing movies and wound up writing for the New York Daily News. It was tragic. The management at the Chicago Reader huddled.

This Cecil, they said, he’s brilliant, but his insufferable personality is more than any normal person should be asked to bear. The only solution is to assign him an editor who does not have any sense of self to start with. This explains Ed Zotti. He started off slow and it’s been downhill from there. But since 1978 he kept Cecil, if not happy, at least constructively pissed, cranking out columns once a week until stepping down in 2018.

How does Cecil do his thing? From what we have been able to piece together, Cecil works in fits and starts. First he rummages through the mail looking for mash notes from groupies. Our favorite (no kidding): “Dear Cecil, are you married? If yes, do you fool around?” Then he looks for enough interesting questions to fill a column. He ruminates for a while. He cleans the oven. Finally he calls over his editor and dictates. This part takes twenty minutes. Then the editor has to check the facts. This can take years. YOU try definitively establishing what the H stands for in Jesus H. Christ. Finally the finished column is produced and turned over to the typesetting department, which inserts random mistakes. Nah, just kidding. But stuff happens. Like the other day. We start getting grief from residents of a city in which the column appears because Cecil wrote milliMETERS when it was clear from the context that he meant milliLITERS. Well, it went out of HERE saying milliliters. What’s more, it went out ELECTRONICALLY, so if we rule out influence from cosmic rays we must ask the editors of an unnamed newspaper HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY GET SCREWED UP? Sorry, just needed to get that off our chest. But you get the idea.

What’s Cecil really like? Only his editors really know. When you ask them, their eyes glaze, their bodies become rigid, and they start to spit. They are struggling to express their joy, we figure. More than that we cannot say.

What do we know about Cecil’s private life? Not much. Over the years he has revealed a few details in the column. For example, he is left-handed. That tells you a lot right there. We also know that there is a Mrs. Adams, although, now that we think about it, that could be his mother. Cecil has made reference from time to time to “the little researchers.” These may be children. On the other hand, maybe he just hires dwarves.

Tell the truth. Has Cecil ever been wrong?

Never. However, certain questionable situations have arisen. Veteran Straight Dope readers may remember that a column once referred to “talking books for the deaf.” Very funny. It was a new copyboy’s first day on the job. His body has never been found.

Are the questions in the column real?

Of course they’re real. You think we could make this stuff up?

What’s the average lag between the time you receive a question and the time the answer appears in print? Sometime between 15 minutes and never. The longest lag we know of for a question that was actually published was nine years. But that was unusual. If a question is worth answering, we make a genuine effort to do so while the question asker is still alive.

Just one more thing. How do you pronounce “FAQ”? Fakk, that’s how. Don’t be smart. That’s Cecil’s job.

Who is Slug Signorino?

Slug was the irascible illustrator of the Straight Dope column.

Is his name really Slug? No, it’s . . . well, we promised we’d never tell. But if you ever heard it you’d know why he prefers to be called Slug.

How did Slug get this job? He was the low bidder. Over the years, however, we have come to realize that only Slug has the warped vision and poisonous personality necessary to deal with Cecil Adams.

Where does Slug live? In northwest Indiana. We can’t tell you the town. We’re not concerned about Slug’s privacy, we just don’t want to spook the neighbors.

What would Slug be doing if he weren’t illustrating the Straight Dope? We don’t know, but we bet if anybody found out he’d get 25 to life.

Is it true Slug and Cecil are the same person? Are you kidding? They can barely stand to be in the same area code. What would it be like if they were in the same body?

What accounts for Slug’s unique artistic sensibility? We’re not sure. All we know is northwest Indiana has the world’s highest concentration of toxic waste.

Where else can Slug’s work be seen? Slug is a successful commercial artist. Among his clients are several prominent publishers of the textbooks supplied to impressionable American schoolchildren. And here you’ve been blaming the whole thing on Hugh Hefner.

Seriously, what is Slug really like? He is funny, charming, and one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. But he’s been depicting Cecil as a turkey in a mortarboard for 20 years, and now he’s got to pay.