Thursday, 19 June 2014

Received Ideas V

Here are some more quotes I've taken out of my mini e-book Clichés: A Dictionary of Received Ideas (£1.50 on Amazon).

CHARITY All money given to charity goes to middlemen. “To buy Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it that goes with most of the foreign aid.” (MEP Godfrey Bloom, August 2013)

CHEERS! “One story about the clinking of glasses is that the purpose is to spill each person’s wine into the glass of the other, for assurance that nobody is being poisoned (or everyone is). Another story is that the custom of clinking glasses originated in the Middle Ages, when any alcoholic drink was thought to contain actual ‘spirits’, such as the demons in ‘demon rum’, who, when imbibed, inhabited the host’s body, causing the imbiber to do things that he would not ordinarily do. Since bells and other sounds were thought to drive spirits away (to this day, churches ring bells to drive the ‘demons’ away from the sanctuary before worship begins), the clinking of glasses was thought to make it safe to drink.” (The usually sensible Judith Martin in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour)

CHILDHOOD Invented by the Victorians: “When the idea of childhood came into being at the beginning of the 19th century...” (Mark Ravenhill, The Guardian, 22 January 2007)

CLOCK FACES “The logical notation for 4 is IV. However, the letters IV (the Latin equivalent of JU) were commonly used by the Romans as a shorthand for ‘Jupiter’, and it was considered bad luck for anyone other than a priest to write this down in any form… Consequently, they used the IIII form instead. Clockmakers were aware of this and did not want their timepieces to bear the symbols of bad luck, albeit of a pagan origin, and so to this day they use the IIII form.” (

DICKENS “If Dickens were alive today he would probably be making blockbusters or scripting smart HBO miniseries.” The Times, Nov 30 2012)

DIRT IS MATTER IN THE WRONG PLACE Not anthropologist Mary Douglas but “The memorable definition of dirt as 'matter in the wrong place' was first coined by Lord Palmerston, whilst he was Home Secretary, at an agricultural meeting in 1851, referring to the possibility of turning sewage into manure. It has been widely quoted, often misattributed, ever since.” (Dust, Mud, Soot and Soil: The Worst Jobs in Victorian London by Lee Jackson)

EAU DE COLOGNE Friend RI writes: “4711 was originally sold as an alcoholic drink, but when a tax was put on spirits – but not on scent – they simply swore it was a perfume instead. Completely contrary to expectations, it started selling far more. Was originally sold as a vastly profitable secret-formula health elixir (with alcohol in it, conveniently). When Napoleon invaded, he made an order that the recipes of all such medicines and potions had to be disclosed (as well as numbering all the houses, hence No. 4711).”

ENGLISH SPELLING Logical English spelling was made more complicated by “schoolmen... whose concern was not to make the written language more user-friendly and to increase literacy but to make English appear more prestigious and, in effect, less Anglo-Saxon.” Or perhaps by “Dutch printers who didn’t speak English or confused clerics more used to writing in French and Latin”. “The Chancery clerks who in the 15th century substituted “ea” for both the long and short “e” sounds ... did so to preserve their superior status.” Letters to the Times June 2014

ETIQUETTE Is a thing of the past: “Nowadays at least, civility is less class-oriented and exclusive, and more about gestures of politeness.” (, 2013) “The restrictions that bound us in the past, in the matter of social etiquette, have all been washed away by the cleansing waters of time.” (Pietro Ramirez, 1936)

FACEBOOK Is “the J.B. Wetherspoon of social media”, says a keen Tweeter. “There is something decidedly faux about the camaraderie of Facebook, something illusory about the connectedness of Twitter.” (Bill Keller, New York Times, May 2011)

FAMILY MEALS Will solve all society’s problems. “We’re always being told we don’t sit down for dinner together enough.” (BBC Online, January 2011)

FOLK MUSIC Always being ruined by professionals: “When ‘serious’ composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams or Percy Grainger got hold of these tunes the process was intensified, with four-square harmonies being imposed in place of the entirely different idiom of monophonic music.” (Paganism in British Folk Customs, Bob Trubshaw)

FREUD Moved Man from his place at the centre of the Universe, with a little help from Copernicus and Darwin: “He claimed, in the Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, that his theory was the third of three major blows to the ‘naive self-love of man’.” Copernicus dislodged us from the centre of the cosmos. Darwin then revealed we were part of the animal kingdom. The next step was for Freud to show that ‘the ego is not even master in its own house, but must content itself with scanty information of what is going on unconsciously in its mind’.” Paul Broks, The Guardian May 6, 2006)

GESTURES “When the Greeks moved to southern Italy and colonised Naples, the Italians used gestures as a way to communicate without being overheard [but] the gestures continued to have a tradition as a way of communicating.” Barbara Poggi, BBC “I remember as a youth being told not to use gestures: that doing so is a sign of a poor grasp of the language.” (Friend SK writes.)

GRAMMAR Just “old-fashioned classism and elitism”. (Guardian September 2013)

More here, and links to the rest.

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