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The Dictionary of Received Ideas
A new Doctor Waffle project
Dear Friends of Doctor Waffle,
I’m starting a couple of new projects, now that the dust on the 52 Mini-Essays Project has settled. The first is an updated version of Gustave Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas—and I need your help!
Flaubert’s last (unfinished) novel, Bouvard et Pécuchet, is a satire about two bumbling Parisian copy-clerks who retire to the countryside when one of them inherits a large fortune, where they systematically blunder their way through every branch of knowledge before deciding, in the end, to return to their copying jobs. The Dictionary of Received Ideas—a compendium of clichés, platitudes, and stereotyped notions that Flaubert worked on throughout the 1870s—was meant to appear as an appendix to the novel, the culmination of Bouvard and Pécuchet’s “life work.” The entries are usually funny, often insightful, and sometimes a little too close to home to be taken as fully satirical. (A few examples are provided below.)
My plan is to work on a new version of the Dictionary for our current (batshit insane) historical moment. I will update as many of Flaubert’s original entries as practicable (I will probably pass on entries like GIRONDISTS or EMBONPOINT for reasons that I trust are obvious), but I also want to include new words and concepts that would have been unknown to Flaubert (bless his heart), like BITCOIN and CAGE MATCH.
And that is where you come in! Please suggest any term for which you would like to see an entry in the updated Dictionary—I will endeavor faithfully to include them all. There is no time limit on this assignment, as I imagine this project might very well accompany me to the grave (as it did Flaubert).
I will aim to write 2-3 entries a week and send/post them in a little package, wholly disregarding alphabetization, which will take a back seat to timeliness. Because some will be from Flaubert and some will be new entries, the ongoing compilation on the Doctor Waffle site will be a higgledy-piggledy thing, but we can all imagine the completed Dictionary in its final alphabetical form existing in some Platonic space.
Thank you for pitching in on this silly project! As always, we aim to amuse.
Some examples from Flaubert’s Dictionary, just to give you an idea:
BOOK. Always too long, regardless of subject.
DIPLOMA. Emblem of knowledge. Proves nothing.
EXERCISE. Prevents all diseases. Recommend it at all times.
GODFATHER. Always the actual father of the godchild.
HOME. Always a castle inviolate. However, the police and the judiciary can enter whenever they please.
ILLUSIONS. Pretend to have had a great many, regret that you have lost them all.
NOVELS. Corrupt the masses. Are less immoral in serial than in volume form. Only historical novels should be allowed, because they teach history. Some novels are written with the point of a scalpel. Others revolve on the point of a needle.
OLDEST INHABITANTS. In times of flood, thunderstorm, etc., the oldest inhabitants cannot remember ever having seen a worse one.
SCAFFOLD. When upon it, manage to say a few eloquent words before dying.
SEA. Bottomless. Symbol of infinity. Induces deep thoughts. At the shore one should always have a good glass. While contemplating the sea, always exclaim: “Water, water everywhere.”
WEALTH. Substitute for everything, including reputation.
WINTER. Always “unusual.” (See SUMMER.) Is more healthful than the other seasons.