“Everything you need to know in order to be accepted as a member of polite society,” wrote Gustave Flaubert while putting together his collection of Id├®es Re├ºues, or “received ideas”. They are the things that Everybody Knows, or What To Say About the topic of the day.
Here is a sample:
REFORMS CanÔÇÖt be made overnight. Great change should be phased in gradually.
QUEENÔÇÖS HANDBAG If anyone finds out what the Queen carries in her handbag, they are never seen again.
PROTEST Never changed anything.
PUBLIC TOILETS The first public toilets were provided at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
PAUL POIRET The first designer to create dresses that women could get into without help.
KILTS, TARTAN Ancient Scottish dress. Invented by the Victorians.
KARL MARX Fond of the lifestyle of the despised bourgeoisie.
ICELANDIC Has no word for ÔÇ£pleaseÔÇØ, and 45 words for ÔÇ£greenÔÇØ.
HUMANISM A form of religion. Do humanists worship Man?
HOMERIC GREEK Had no word for ÔÇ£intentionÔÇØ.
HONEY Natural honey has fewer calories than white sugar.
GREEK STATUES Their genitalia were all shot off by soldiers using them for target practice.
TIME Our lives are getting faster and faster (or is that ÔÇ£fast-pacedÔÇØ?). But somehow the 4.50 from Paddington is still delayed.
All this and more in my book Clich├®s: A Dictionary of Received Ideas.