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."NOTE: The entry for "Action" was written in 2004. It would need to be updated to account for the Obama years:
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.
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.