Seven deadly sins error

Has Cecil (the world’s smartest human) ever admitted to making a mistake? Even to a relatively insignificant one? On June 1, 2001 he responded to a question concerning the seven deadly sins. In this response, he made referrence to “a document written in 1789.” Presumably, this document is the U.S. Constitution, which was in fact written during the summer of 1787 and signed on September 17, 1787. While acknowledging that this is not a matter of life or death, infallibility is supposed to be, after all, infallible. Am I wrong?

Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Board, M P. Glad to have you here.

When you are starting a topic, it is helpful if you provide a link to the Column being discussed. Helps others to read the column quickly, and thus know what you’re talking about.

The column is Why are the “seven deadly sins” so deadly?

And, BTW, while Cecil never makes mistakes, Ed Zotti is Cecil’s editor, and can be sloppy sometimes.


1789 is the correct date, chilluns.

M.Peterson is correct. The U.S. Constitution was indeed written in 1787.

On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates from the twelve states represented (Rhode Island declined to send any delegates) at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (which had opened on May 25, 1787), the other 16 delegates being opposed or absent, signed the Constitution and sent it to the Congress of the Confederation. The Convention then adjourned. On September 28, 1787, Congress sent the Constitution to the states for ratification.

Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania ratified the Constitution in December 1787. Georgia and Connecticut followed in January 1788. In Massachusetts, supporters of the Constitution won ratification in February after intense debate by suggesting that, after ratification, Massachusetts propose that the Constitution be amended to include a bill of rights. Maryland and South Carolina ratified the Constitution in April and May, respectively. In June New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, completing the necessary two-thirds majority.

A struggle in the Virginia convention resulted in ratification on June 26. In New York, Alexander Hamilton won ratification in July after threatening to detach New York City from the rest of the state. North Carolina rejected the Constitution in 1788, but ratified it in November 1789, when the U.S. government had already been established. Rhode Island was induced to ratify the Constitution in May 1790, after Congress threatened to regard it as a foreign nation and to impose duties on its exports to the other states.

There ya have it.

I didn’t say the Constitution was written in 1789.

But part of it was.

Really? Which part?

I’m of the impression that while the Bill of Rights is generally considered part of the U.S. Constitution, and was ratified in 1791, all the proposed amendments, which were to comprise the Bill of Rights were actually written prior to 1789. When the first U.S. Congress convened on March 4, 1789, one of their first tasks was to wade through the 142 proposed amendments before them, which they reduced to twelve. Only ten of those twelve were then ratified by the states on December 15, 1791 to become the Bill of Rights. The 11th amendment wasn’t then proposed until 1794 and ratified in 1795.

So, I guess, technically, a portion of the U.S. Constitution may have been written in 1789. Is this the portion of which you speak, John?

Infallible refers to Cecil’s overall talents – it doesn’t mean mistakes don’t sometimes get into print. The foreword to the The Straight Dope recounts some of Cecil’s dealings with his original editor, Mike Lenehan, and notes: “As often as not, the columnist wrote his weekly opuses in crabbed longhand on the backs of old envelopes, sandwich wrappers, or bus transfers, which Lenehan had to decipher as best he could. As a result, errors occasionally found their way into print. Cecil was livid on those occasions, but the unflappable Lenehan pointed out that if Cecil would simply behave like an ordinary human being instead of a two-bit combination of Horace Greeley and James Bond, such problems could be avoided”.

I’m not here to make excuses for Unce Cece, but I wonder if the problem was the wrong verb rather than the wrong date, i.e. perhaps it was supposed to read ratified in 1789, rather than written. In that case, the cause could have been something as simple as a bad cellphone connection causing the word to be misheard, or someone rushing to get the column into print or even – this is admitedly a long shot – a spellchecker hiccup. In any event it is probably Little Ed’s fault, if only because by definition he normally gets blamed for everything which goes wrong,

It will be interesting to see if there will be a correction note in a later column.

No, Cecil is obviously talking about the Bill of Rights, which was (formally) written in 1789, in the first session of the first Congress.

Thinking about this some more, another possibility – getting into pure speculation here – is that Cecil originally did write 1787], but then someone in the downstream editing decided: “Look–Cecil wrote the wrong year. I’ll change it to 1789. He can thank me later”.

Nor would this be the first time something like this happened. Question #18 of the The Straight Dope FAQ reports: “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.”

Let’s go back and quote Cecil in the column:

It is clear that Cecil means The Bill Of Rights, specifically the First Amendment.

I’ll leave it to you others to battle out whether the Bill of Rights was in some manner “written” in 1789.

Cecil Admitted a mistake at least once, to the best of my recollection. I’m going to go search for it now…

He weasels out of it nicely.

I was in fact thinking of the Bill of Rights, which was submitted to the states by Congress on September 25, 1789. If one were to be picky I suppose one might say the Bill had been written earlier, since it was based on a declaration of rights that had been submitted to the Constitutional Convention by Virginia delegate George Mason in 1787 but rejected. This declaration had originally been drafted in 1776 and adopted by a number of states. Nonetheless I think if we construe “written” to mean “having been given formal legislative expression,” 1789 is an accurate date.

May I be first to fall on my knees? Thanks Unca Ceec, for settin’ it straight!

I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!!!

Monster104 humbly bows before his master. But far enough away so Cecil’s Almighty Penis of Terrible Wrath doesn’t destroy him.

I think he just got lucky that someone brought up the bill of rights and is using it to cover his tracks.

Yeesh, how much money must’ve the newbie spent on getting you to post, Unca Cece? I heard rates go up when a republican is in office.

WOW! HE posted, maybe we should have a moment of silence or something. To all you doubters, who are you to doubt HIM? Mind your manners and remember who you are typing about!

Uh, Monster, I think you’ve been the recipient of some bad information here.

Monster just hallucinates a lot.

[sub]Got to post right after Unca Cece![/sub]

I simply assumed that one Omniscient like you must come equipped with one hell of a woman-pleaser.

I repent, my master…

By the way, would it be asking too much if you could enlighten not just I, but the Teeming Millions, as to the stature of your penis?