In search of The Word Detective

“The Word Detective” has gone missing!

That beloved site run by Evan Morris on the Web since 1995 has not posted an update since October, and instead of dissecting words he told of battling primary progressive multiple sclerosis — quite the mouthful — and struggling to pay his bills.

He’s the one who charmingly answers such reader questions as this:

Dear Evan: I was spending a day at the beach recently, and, taking time out from reading a book, spent some time watching seagulls. I noticed that these gulls did a great deal of walking around and picking up things that they seemed to think would be edible but weren’t, such as candy wrappers. They did not, in short, seem very bright. Is this where we get the word “gullible”? — Katherine Mercurio, New York, NY.

Since I am only remotely related to any seagulls myself, I shall answer your question, but first I’ll let you in on an old lexicographer’s secret — “gullible” is one of the few common English words not listed in any dictionary.

I’m tempted to let that sentence stand as is, but I get enough irate reader mail already, so yes, I’m pulling your leg. “Gullible,” meaning “easily tricked or deceived,” is in all decent dictionaries and does indeed have a connection with “gull” the bird. Lest I inflame my avian correspondents in Brooklyn, however, I should note that most authorities feel that the “gull” in “gullible” is not a seagull, but comes from an earlier sense of the word, meaning a young bird of any species. And young birds, as you seem to have discovered, are easy to fool.

For those of us enamored with language, it would be dreadful to lose his fulgent voice. My own, pathetic column riffing on language, “Word Whoops,” is an occasional distraction, but Morris’ livelihood depends on his lively linguistic probes.

They tell young people to pursue what gives life meaning, and they’ll find the means to live. They tell writers: Write what you know, and you’ll be successful. They say: Do what you love and never work a day in your life. Here’s Morris, trying to cure a poverty of knowledge, or at least enrich our ability to communicate, and he faces impoverishment? Then suddenly — ex-communication?!

Seriously, I’m concerned. If anyone gets word, please spread it. And if you have the means, please support his effort to bring more meaning into our lives.