Cecil Adams is the pseudonymous author of The Straight Dope, a popular question and answer column published in The Chicago Reader since 1973. The true identity of Adams, whether a single individual or a group of authors, has remained unknown. The Chicago Reader's 1986 trademark filing for the name "Cecil Adams" states that "Cecil Adams does not identify any particular individual but was devised as a fanciful name." Ed Zotti is the current editor of the column. Cecil Adams is affectionately known to readers and fans (and sometimes refers to himself) as Uncle Cecil.
The column has since been syndicated in 31 newspapers in the United States and Canada and is available online. Billed as the "World's Smartest Human", Adams responds to often unusual inquiries with abrasive humor (often directed against the questioner), and at times exhaustive research into obscure and arcane issues, urban legends, and the like. On more than one occasion, Adams has been forced to retract or modify an answer when confronted by "the Teeming Millions" (Adams' term for his readers), often claiming overwork and staff shortages. On rare occasions, Adams has made appearances on the Straight Dope's Message Board.
A subsidiary column concerning questions of local interest in Adams's home city of Chicago has been added.
Adams states that he has "never been photographed" and while there is at least one photo captioned with his name, the image is of Ed Zotti, who currently fulfills Adams's publicity engagements. Previous editors include Mike Lenehan and Dave Kehr.
In his columns, Adams has revealed a few details of his personal life, including the existence of a Mrs. Adams (the FAQ section on his website states that chance references to "Mrs. Adams" may refer to his mother), that he has a brother-in-law, and that he has either children or dwarves as helpers. He has a brother. He is an accomplished traveler, and currently resides in Chicago's 47th Ward. He is also left-handed and may be balding and colorblind. He mentions having taken a class with Northwestern University English Professor Bergen Evans, mentions once working as an electrician's apprentice, and a railroad machinist's helper. He also mentions attending a Catholic school. He is of Irish descent, and relaxes with Pink Floyd and Baileys.
Adams has published five collections of his The Straight Dope columns, and Zotti has published a children's collection in The Straight Dope style entitled Know It All. Adams' columns are archived at the Straight Dope website. In 1996, the A&E Network briefly aired a show hosted by comedian Mike Lukas based on the column, also called The Straight Dope.
Over 600 articles have been posted to the site's online archive; some of these contain multiple questions-and-answers. Also included with the columns are quirky illustrations. Slug Signorino, in addition to a successful commercial art career, has been the regular illustrator for The Straight Dope for the past twenty years. In his illustrations, Cecil Adams is often depicted as a large turkey wearing a mortar board.