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Conventional Lameness

The phrase “conventional wisdom” exemplifies what it’s meant to disparage. People hear it and then repeat it because they think it makes them sound smart. If you came to America speaking little English and tried to learn the language by reading newspapers, you would think “conventional wisdom” was a catch-all term for anything untrue, because it is invariably used to make a commonplace opinion seem daring by pretending that everyone except the writer thinks the opposite.


For example, here’s the lead from sportswriter Joel Sherman’s column in yesterday’s New York Post:

For the record, I hate conventional wisdom. I hate echoing what everyone else says just because after a while anything repeated over and over kind of sounds like indisputable fact, even if it is nonsense.

Mighty bold of you to take a courageous stand like that, Joel. And on the record, too! Unlike most journalists, who will tell you that they love echoing what everyone else says over and over — especially if it’s nonsense.


When Sherman says, “I hate conventional wisdom,” it’s a truism, because to writers like him, conventional wisdom is defined as “anything I disagree with” (in this case, the belief that pitcher Javier Vazquez is going to have a great year with the Yankees, which every Yankee fan I’ve talked to thinks is absurd). Some writers like to pretend that everybody agrees with them; others, like Sherman, like to pretend that everybody disagrees. But good writers avoid clichés like “conventional wisdom” and simply say what they think, instead of using what everyone else supposedly thinks for validation.


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