'I love good sense above all, perhaps because I have none' Gustave Flaubert

On Bluefrog Creative by Aline Reed, 11 June 2013

The Dictionary of Received Ideas isn’t exactly a regular kind of reference book. It’s a spoof encyclopedia, written by Gustave Flaubert and published in 1911, 30 years after his death.

Dictionary of received ideas

It’s a compilation of clichés and accepted ideas that don’t really bear close scrutiny. And as it turns out, Flaubert had some pretty extreme intentions when he collected them. He said:

‘After reading the book, one would be afraid to talk, for fear of using one of the phrases in it.’

Flaubert wanted to poke fun at ideas that lacked good sense. Looking through the book today, some of the entries are a little obscure. Plenty are still accessible though. Here’s a few that might raise a smile (wry or otherwise).


EXCEPTION – Say that it proves the rule. Do not attempt to explain how.

SOLID – Always followed by ‘as a rock’

WINTER – Always exceptional (see Summer)

When you turn to the entry for Summer, you find that’s always exceptional too.

Questionable ideas

INNOVATION – Always dangerous

PUBLICITY – Source of wealth

THINKING – Tedious; things that oblige us to do any are generally given up

Very silly ideas

ICE CREAM – It is dangerous to eat

LANDSCAPES (in paintings) – Always look like spinach

SHEPHERDS – All sorcerers. Have a special gift of chatting with the Holy Virgin.

Anyway, inspired by Flaubert, I thought I’d ask a few fundraisers (working both charity and agency-side) if there were any particular fundraising clichés that annoyed them or accepted ideas that they rejected.

I don’t think I’ve ever received so many responses, especially when I assured the contributors that they’d remain anonymous! I don’t have quite enough for a whole dictionary (even Flaubert had nothing for ‘Z’), but here are a few that seemed worth sharing.

FRIEND It’s not a personalised piece. We don’t know the donor’s name. But is ‘Friend’ the only term we can come up with?

COMPASSION FATIGUE Love, hate and all emotions in between are apparently inexhaustible. Except one. Compassion comes in a supply that can run out.

DIFFERENT (as in, our donors are different) which often seems to be a way of rejecting any learning that might come from elsewhere e.g. ‘Long copy works’ But our donors are different’

EDUCATE We want to educate the donors. That is, send them things they’re not interested in.

FUTURE Your legacy will help our work in the future (because it definitely won’t help our work in the past)

PEOPLE LIKE YOU Is there anyone like you? Or me for that matter?

REFRESH (as in, it’s time to refresh the control pack). If you change it, it’s not the control any more.

URGENT This appeal is urgent. Because it says so. No other reason needed.

I have a feeling there may be a few more out there. Do email or tweet me with any further suggestions.

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