Last summer I had an idea for a book: a compendium of popular words or phrases used in the media that encapsulate complex concepts not well understood. In other words, a digest of intellectual slang.
Success in today’s marketplace of ideas seems to be based on whoever can condense their broad-based, interdisciplinary and world-changing concept into the tiniest catchphrase: a kind of argotic arms race. Unfortunately, these terms — regardless of the value they bear in their specific fields — are often used irresponsibly in a more general setting. Such usage not only confuses the issue, but is usually a signal of lazy thinking.
My book would gather around one hundred of these ideas from the last one hundred years, potentially through a discourse analysis of popular media outlets such as _Time_ or _The Atlantic_. Some criteria for the terms could be the following:
* the term cannot be self-explanatory
* the term must appear in regular media (not academic journals etc)
* the term must be influential/popular
Below are some examples to describe the types of terms I am looking for:
* tragedy of the commons
* the long tail
* climate crisis
* intelligent design
* the long war
* mutual assured destruction
I would survey a random selection of the population to find the terms most widely known yet misunderstood. The survey results would be plotted on a graph from which the final terms would be selected. The entire methodology would be published as an appendix to the book.
Each idea would encompass a two page spread, include a photo of the originator of the term (if known), a 500 word explanation of the core points of the concept and its historical significance, and a list of resources for those interested in learning more. The ideas would be organized into chapters based on field of inquiry (politics, economics, philosophy, science etc).
The original Dictionary of Modern Ideas proposal napkin
Rather than a reference work the _Dicitonary of Modern Ideas_ would be more of a coffee table book. It would have an attractive graphic design pleasurable to the eye, while being stimulating to the brain. The book would target two types of readers: 1) regular citizens who desire a deeper understanding of opaque terms often used in public discourse, and 2) the intellectually curious who want a tour of the ideas of our time.
This book idea has potentially already been published. If any of our commenters know, please let me know in the comments. If it hasn’t, maybe one day I will have to put it together.