This humorous glossary of cynical definitions was published in “The New Yorker” by Teju Cole in response to Gustave Flaubert‘s “Le Dictionnaire des Idées Reçues” (“The Dictionary of Received Ideas”). Flaubert hated cliches and his “Dictionnaire” was his own “complaint against automatic thinking”. Cole was inspired by Flaubert’s “Dictionnaire” to put together his own list of more modern “standard formulations”.
AFRICA. A country. Poor but happy. Rising.
ALMOND. All eyes are almond-shaped.
AMERICAN. With the prefix “all,” a blonde.
ARTICULATE. Say “you’re very articulate” to young blacks, and then ask where they are from.
ARTISAN. A carpenter, in Brooklyn.
ATHEISM. Deranged cult of violent fanatics.
AUSTRALIANS. Extremely fit. Immune to pain. If you meet one, say “Foster’s.” The whole country is nothing but beaches.
BLUE. The color of purity. Countless mysterious ads are devoted to pads and liners that absorb blue liquid.
BREAST. No joking matter. One glimpse on television sufficient to destroy a childhood. (SeeCHILDREN.)
BUDDHISM. The way of peace.
CARAMEL. Term used to describe black women’s skin. No other meaning known.
CAESAR. “Veni, vidi, vici.” Get into a conversation about the pronunciation.
CHILDREN. The only justification for policy. Always say “our children.” The childless have no interest in improving society.
CHINESE. Wonder what they’re thinking.
CHOCOLATE. Term used to describe black women’s skin. No other meaning known.
CHRISTIANITY. Peace on earth.
COFFEE. Declare that it is intolerable at Starbucks. Buy it at Starbucks.
COMMUNITY. Preceded by “black.” White people, lacking community, must make do with property.
CRIME. Illegal activities involving smaller amounts of money.
CRISIS. Mention that it is composed of the Chinese characters for opportunity and danger.
DIVERSITY. Obviously desirable, within limits. Mention your service in the Peace Corps.
EGGS. Always say “you can’t make omelets without breaking eggs” whenever the subject of war comes up.
EMIGRÉ. Jewish immigrant.
EVOLUTION. Only a theory.
FASCISM. Always preceded by “creeping.”
FEMINISTS. Wonderful, in theory.
FISH. A vegetable.
GERMANS. When watching football, “never rule out the Germans.”
HARVARD. Source of studies quoted on BBC. Never say “I went to Harvard.” Say “I schooled in the Boston area.”
HAUTE COUTURE. Always declare that it is made by gay men for boyish girls. Wait hours to see fashion exhibits at the Met.
HEAT. Antonym of humidity.
HILARIOUS. Never simply say “funny.”
HIP HOP. Old-school hip hop, i.e., whatever was popular when you were nineteen, is great. Everything since then is intolerable.
HIPSTER. One who has an irrational hatred of hipsters.
ILIAD. Declare a preference for the Odyssey.
INDIA. Work your tolerance of or aversion to spicy food into the conversation as quickly as possible. “A land of contrasts.”
INTERNET. A waste of time. Have a long online argument with anyone who disagrees.
ISLAM. Religion of peace.
JAPAN. Mysterious. Always “the Japanese.” Mention Murakami.
JAZZ. America’s classical music. The last album was released in 1965.
LITERALLY. Swear you’d rather die than use “literally” as an intensifier.
MAGISTERIAL. Large book, written by a man.
MEN. Always say “all the good ones are gay or taken” within earshot of the straight single ones.
MIGRANT. Mexican immigrant.
MOCHA. Term used to describe black women’s skin. No other meaning known.
NEWSPAPERS. Bemoan their gradual disappearance. Don’t actually buy any.
NIETZSCHE. Say “Nietzsche says God is dead,” but if someone says that first, say “God says Nietzsche is dead.”
ODYSSEY. Declare a preference for the Iliad.
PARIS. Romantic, in spite of the rude waiters and Japanese tourists. Don’t simply like it; “adore” it.
POET. Always preceded by “published.” Function unknown.
PRETTY. On Facebook, to indicate an unattractive woman.
PROUST. No one actually reads him. You reread him, preferably on summer vacation.
PUNS. Always say “no pun intended” to draw attention to the intended pun.
RACISM. Obsolete term. Meaning unknown.
REGGAE. Sadly, just one album exists in the genre.
RUSHDIE. Have a strong opinion on “The Satanic Verses.” Under no circumstances actually read “The Satanic Verses.”
SCANDAL. If governmental, express surprise that people are surprised. If sexual, declare it a distraction, but seek out the details.
SEMINAL. Be sure to use in a review of a woman’s work. Proclaim your innocence after.
SMART. Any essay that confirms your prejudices.
STRIKE. Always “surgical.” (See EGGS.)
SUNSET. Beautiful. Like a painting. Post on Instagram and hashtag “no filter.”
TELEVISION. Much improved. Better than novels. If someone says “The Wire,” say “The Sopranos,” or vice versa.
TOUR DE FORCE. A film longer than two and a half hours and not in English.
VALUES. “We must do whatever it takes to preserve our values.” Said as a prelude to destroying them.
VIRGINITY. An obsession in Iran and in the olive-oil industry. It can be lost, like a wallet.
YEATS. Author of two quotations.
ŽIŽEK. Observe he’s made some good points, but.