Sunday, February 6, 2011


My selection from Flaubert's Dictionary Of Received Ideas, his satirical poke at foolish attitudes among the French bourgeoisie of the 1870s - though, it might be agreed, some possess a sly truth of their own.

ALABASTER - Serves to describe the loveliest parts of the woman's body.

ARCHITECTS - All imbeciles. Always forget to include the household staircase.

ARMY IRREGULAR - More terrifying than the enemy.

ART - Leads to the poorhouse. What's the use of it, since we're replacing it with machines that do it better and work faster?

BASILICA - Pompous synonym for church. Is always imposing.

BATHING COSTUME - Very exciting.

BLONDES - Looser than brunettes (See BRUNETTES)

BOOK - Whatever it is, always too long.

BRUNETTES - Looser than blondes (See BLONDES)

BUTCHERS - Are terrible in times of revolution.

CATHOLICISM - Has had a most favourable influence on the arts.

CELEBRITIES - Concern oneself with every detail of their private lives, in order to be able to denigrate them.

CENSORSHIP - Has its uses, say what you will.

CLARINET - Playing one causes blindness. Example: all blind people play the clarinet.

CLOAK - Always the same colour as the wall for gallant escapes.

CLOGS - A wealthy man of humble origins always came to Paris in a pair of clogs.


CONVICTS - Always have a ruffian look. All of them very clever with their hands. In the prison colonies they are men of genius.

CRUCIFIX - Looks good in an alcove or beside the guillotine.

CRUSADES - Were beneficial to Venetian trade.

CURLS - Do not suit men.

DESERT - Produces dates.

EMIGRANTS - Earned their living giving guitar lessons and making salads.

ENGLISH WOMEN - Express surprise that they should produce attractive children.

EPISTOLARY - Literary style exclusively reserved to women.

ETRUSCAN - All ancient vases are Etruscan.

GAME PIE - Always made of cat meat.

GARRET - How happily one lives at twenty!

GENIUS - No need to admire it, it's a "neurosis".

GERMANY - Always preceded by blonde, dreaming. But what military organization!

GORDIAN KNOT - Something to do with Antiquity. (Ancient people's way of tying their cravat.)

HERRING - The wealth of Holland.

HIDES - All animal hides come from Russia.

HORIZONS - Find them beautiful in nature and dim in politics.

HUNCHBACKS - Possess great wit. Much sought after by lascivious women.

HYDROTHERAPY - Cures and causes all diseases.

ILLUSIONS - Pretend to have many, complain about having lost them.

IMBROGLIO - What all pieces of theatre are really about.

IMPERIALISTS - All honest, polite, distinguished people.

INDIA RUBBER - Is made from a horse's scrotum.

INDOLENCE - Consequence of living in hot countries.

INFINITESIMAL - One does not know what it is, but it is connected to homeopathy.

ITALIANS - All musicians. All traitors.

JAPAN - Everything there is made of porcelain.

JESUITS - Have a hand in all revolutions. Nobody realises how numerous they are.

LACONISM - A language that is no longer spoken.

LAURELS - Prevent one from sleeping.

LITERATURE - Occupation of the idle.

MACKINTOSH - Scottish philosopher. Inventor of rubber.

MALDOLIN - Indispensable in the seduction of Spanish women.

MARTYRS - All early Christians were martyrs.

MEDICAL STUDENTS - Sleep next to corpses. Some even eat them.

MERCURY - Kills the disease and the patient.

METALLURGY - Very fashionable.

METAPHORS - There are always too many in an author's style.

MILK -Dissolves oysters. Attracts snakes. Whitens the skin; some ladies in Paris take a milk bath every morning.

MINUTE - One has no idea how long a minute can last.

MISSIONARIES - Are all eaten or crucified.

OBSCENITY - All scientific words derived from Greek or Latin conceal an obscenity.

PHOENIX - Good name for a fire insurance company.

POLITICAL ECONOMY - Gutless science.

PUBLICITY - Source of wealth.

PYRAMID - Useless undertaking.

QUESTION - To ask it is to answer it.

RELATIVES - Always unpleasant. Conceal those who are not rich.

RHYME - Never accords with reason.

RUINS - Make one dream and lend poetry to a landscape.

SABRE - The French want to be governed by a sabre.

SNEEZING: It is a witticism to say: Russian and Polish are not spoken, they are sneezed.

STUDENT: All wear a red beret, baggy trousers, smoke a pipe in the street, and do not work.

SUMMER: Always exceptional (see WINTER).

SYPHILIS - To some extent or other, everyone has it.

TOILETTE (of ladies) - Troubles the imagination.

TOYS - Should all be scientific.

TROUBADOUR - Fine motif for an ornamental clock.

WINDMILL - Looks good in a landscape.

WINTER: Always exceptional (See SUMMER).


  1. Excellent. Is he saying that all congregationalists are wankers?

  2. The note in my edition does not elucidate hugely, Rae. "A member of a nonconformist Protestant church." Quite nonconformist, in this case, presumably.

  3. "Congregationalist church governance, in which each independently and autonomously runs its own affairs". So, rae is probably right.
    Flaubert is the best.