Dictionary of Received Ideas

That's the name of a feature by Justin Evans in the new periodical The Point (issue two, Winter 2010).  It's a bit like Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary and I found it to be the funniest article I have read this year.  (It doesn't seem to be on-line.)  Here is one set of consecutive entries:

Economics: actually explains everything

Economy, the: completely incomprehensible

I also liked this one:

Debt: i) public — is inexcusable;

private — drives the economy.

ii) public — drives the economy;

private — is a failure of social safety nets.

They're not mostly about economics, by the way.  Most magazines bore me, especially those with an arty or intellectual feel to them.  Yet I have read half an issue of The Point (found browsing in a Berlin bookstore) and, based on that data, I think it is excellent and I will be starting a subscription.


Flaubert wrote a Dictionary of Received Ideas that's usually considered to be an appendage of Bouvard & Pecuchet, a text constructed by the two title characters.

The style of Flaubert's entries is to cite cliched responses to the term being "defined". I don't have a copy of the book here, but it'd be along the lines of Hat: keep secrets under; don't talk through; etc.

The quotes from Evans' column you cite are in the ballpark, but a bit different from Flaubert's tone.

Herb seems right that this is most likely based on Flaubert's book of the same name. Flaubert's is a lot of fun and should be more known than it is.

The paired entries on economics and the economy reminds me of the old
saying, "The operation was successful but the patient died."

Tyler, another good idea from a letter to the NYT editor

The more government subsidizes unemployment, the more people will indulge in it for longer periods of time.

If you have found that bookshop, then you probably also have stumbled upon the amazing café inside the KW courtyard a little bit further west across the Auguststrasse, one of the most civilized places on this planet for drinks cum magazine perusing.

Just adding me voice to the choir that this is definitely a takeoff of Flaubert's Dictionary--which is pretty funny and, I think, unfinished at the time of his death--rather than Bierce.

I have an extra skip in my step today, learning that Tyler Freakin' Cowen evidently didn't know of Flaubert's Dictionary. Surely TC would've picked it up from Julian Barnes if nowhere else.

Many thanks to John Shade for the site above; enjoy! The first 5 entries give the flavor:

ABELARD No need to have any idea of his philosophy, nor even to know the titles of his works. Refer discreetly to the mutilation inflicted on him by Fulbert. The grave of Abelard and Heloise: if someone proves to you that it is apocryphal, exclaim: 'You are robbing me of my illusions!'

ABSALOM If he had worn a wig, Joab could not have murdered him. Facetious name for a bald friend.

ABSINTHE Extra violent poison: one glass and you're a dead man. Newspapermen drink it while writing their copy. Has killed more soldiers than the Bedouins.

ACADEMY, FRENCH Run it down but try to belong to it if you can.

ACCIDENT Always 'regrettable' or 'unfortunate' (as if a mishap could ever be a cause for rejoicing).

Risk, n. A chance at failure to be avoided or mitigated


Risk, n. A chance at success to be seized or sought out

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