August 28, 2013

A new "Dictionary of Received Ideas."

I've been threatening to write a new "Dictionary of Received Ideas" for years — as clicking on the "Dictionary of Received Ideas" tag will prove — so a reader sent me the link to this new New Yorker piece, by Teju Cole, which is exactly that, beginning with an explanation of the original "Dictionnaire des Idées Reçues," by Gustave Flaubert:
What galls Flaubert most is the inevitability, given an action, of a certain standard reaction. We could learn from his impatience: there are too many standard formulations in our language. They stand in place of thought, but we proclaim them each time—due to laziness, prejudice, or hypocrisy—as though they were fresh insight.
The great thing about pinning down these things is that now, anyone serving up the received idea can be forced to acknowledge that their insight is totally stale. If the book isn't written however, you're forced to say things like: If I were writing a new "Dictionary of Received Ideas," I would put [whatever you just said] next to [name the topic that had come up in conversation]. For example, to draw on a topic discussed earlier today on this blog: Travel. My entry for "Travel" would be: It broadens the mind. 

ADDED: Here is my collection, gathered from old posts. I could generate many more using my tags, but here are the 11 entries I've literally said belong in a new "Dictionary of Received Ideas," arranged alphabetically:
Action: When referring to the government, assert that it shouldn't be taken "unilaterally."
Alito: refer to him as Scalito.
Blackmun: Quote "Poor Joshua!"
Barbie: Imagine how she'd look if her proportions matched those of a real woman.
Contradiction: If accused of contradiction, quote Walt Whitman: "Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)" Shorter form: say you "contain multitudes."
David Brooks: Impressed by the crease in Barack Obama's pants.
Federal Jurisdiction: Arcane.
Mark Madoff: Hanged himself with a dog leash.
Opposed: Always add "unequivocally."
Presidential nominating conventions: Be sure to use the phrase "tightly scripted."
Weather: When cold, make wry comment about global warming.
NOTE: The entry for "Action" was written in 2004. It would need to be updated to account for the Obama years: 
Action: When referring to the government, assert that it shouldn't be taken "unilaterally." If desired action can only be taken unilaterally, say that your opponents are "obstructionist."
The "Contradiction" entry should have "see 'Consistency,' and there should be an entry:
Consistency: "The hobgoblin of little minds." Emerson said that.


CharlesVegas said...

Perhaps the act of pointedly observing that another's insight is stale and received is itself a stale and received observation.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Somewhere in Chesterton (I think it's in The Poet and the Lunatics -- yep, in "The Shadow of the Shark"): "They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind."

Ambrose said...

But isn't anything that Flaubert thought or said itself a received idea?

Tyrone Slothrop said...

German is so guttural. It isn't the heat, it's the humidity. I don't know art, but I know what I like.

Smilin' Jack said...

My entry for "Travel" would be: It broadens the mind.

Which entry is itself, of course, a received idea. Your dictionary will be really, really long.

Mark Trade said...

I thought "travel" was a television channel.

tim maguire said...

"Liberals [fill in the blank] because it makes them feel superior."

MayBee said...

Preconceived idea- expecting a certain response to your own observation and proceeding as if you'd received that response so you may criticize it as a received idea.

Henry said...

Saul Alinsky's fourth rule.

I'm really tired of Saul Alinsky references. The guy came up with some boilerplate for propaganda and conservatives have turned him into fucking Nostradamus.

Speaking of propaganda, can we abandon references to "the big lie"? The big lie does not mean "rhetoric I don't like." And though it is used as a synonym for Nazi Propaganda, that is not its genesis. It was Hitler's term for the perceived propaganda of the Jews.