OED to remove word “gullible”

Mon 29 June 2009
By Ross

It’s been the time-honoured joke of the schoolyards, workplaces and even safari parks: “gullible is not in the dictionary.” The irony stems from the fact that only the gullible would believe such a claim, but the Oxford English Dictionary team are seeking to bring an end to this long-running mirth device.

As part of their ongoing fun-prevention campaign, the makers of the OED — a long-standing lexicographic institution — have voted 14 to 3 to remove the word gullible from the pages of the great word tome.

The joke has gone on long enough,” explains Colin Waterman, OED CEO, OBE and brother to star of 1970s police drama The Sweeney, John Thaw. “It amused a few of us when the joke first started, but we’ve decided it has to come to an end. We’ve removed the word altogether so if anyone does fall for it again, they will be ones in the right, thus negating the whimsy.”

Whilst futurists are speculating a reduction in lexicographic tomfoolery in 2010, several groups are claiming the move by the OED will not solve the problem.

It’s obvius, innit?” claims the Minister for Education, “peeple will jst make jokes bout uther werds.” Several comedy pressure groups have also suggested that the joke may invert itself with proponents simply telling their victims the word “gullible” has been returned to the dictionary.

The origins of the original joke are speculative at worst and at best, pretty well-known. According to banter historians, the joke dates as far back as 1584 when Sir Walter Raleigh was known to use it as an ice-breaker on encountering people native to the Americas. On first contact, while trying to establish communication, he would joke that our language had no word for gullible. Once they understood the joke, it was said to have helped ease colonial tensions.

Even the word itself is said to be coined by the explorer. As a small boy, he would perform magic tricks to seagulls in Cornwall and found that out of all sea birds, they were the easiest to fool. Thus, he would talk about “gulling” people who were easy to trick and referred to them as “gullable”.

In 1814, the first Edition of The Times was printed, but with poor timing as news had yet to be invented. The writers for the paper had to resort to filling pages with their shopping lists, anecdotes from their holidays and the rest was padded out with pages and pages of the letter “A” over and over. This caused a great shortage in the letter A for other publications, thus many words ending in “able” were changed to “ible” — along with “gullible” — giving the modern spelling as we know it today.

The new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary will be out in time for Christmas and is said to be the first edition with the word removed altogether. Language scholars are yet to comment on whether this will affect day to day conversation as they are all on holiday.