Jennifer Rubin’s article titled “Did the South win Pickett’s charge, Sen. Cruz?” in the Washington Post (July 30) begins with the following sentence: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2013/07/30/did-the-south-win-picketts-charge-sen-cruz/

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) isn’t about to let history stand in the way of a self-destructive fight. In support of his brainstorm to shut down the government over Obamacare funding, he declared: “The sort of cocktail chatter wisdom in Washington that, ‘Oh, the [1995-1996] shutdown was a political disaster for Republicans,’ is not borne out by the data.”

Ngram shows emergence of the usage of ‘cocktail chatter’ in mid 1930 followed by a sharp rise of its currency then after.

Though I surmise “cocktail chatter wisdom” implies a rash or still-not-refined idea / plans hatched through conversation during a cocktail party, what does it exactly mean? Is it something like the idea or hint coming up from what we call 井戸端会議 - water-fountain-side conference in Japanese?

Is ‘cocktail chatter wisdom (idea, plan)” a popular phrase? Can I reject it when someone brings up a half-boiled or unrealistic idea, by saying “Your idea is a sort of cocktail chatter wisdom - no back up."?

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    It is not a popular phrase. From my understanding (basically Patrick M's answer), it's conventional wisdom brought to the cocktail party, not so much from it. If you said "Your idea is conventional wisdom." that would not get the point across; it might anticipate 'the but', but you do need to state it ("Your idea is in line with conventional wisdom but the evidence actually suggests __ [something else].")
    – hunter2
    Aug 1, 2013 at 4:44

4 Answers 4


It sounds like he is conflating the terms "cocktail chatter" and "conventional wisdom". The quoted phrase works equally well with the latter of these terms substituted, viz.

“The sort of conventional wisdom in Washington that, ‘Oh, the [1995-1996] shutdown was a political disaster for Republicans,’ is not borne out by the data.”

"Conventional Wisdom" is the body of ideas or explanations generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field. Such ideas or explanations, though widely held, are unexamined. Unqualified societal discourse preserves the status quo.

Cruz essentially blended the two into a neologism; he coined a new phrase. This is supported by the google search for "cocktail chatter wisdom" -cruz, which only turns up one result for me which actually points to Cruz's quote.

Combining the two terms, well, I can't find an authoritative source for the definition of cocktail chatter, but I agree with your rough assessment of the term. Anyways, combining the two terms, the implication is that the idea in question is not only unexamined, it was never critically formed in the first place; rather, this conventional wisdom was just agreed upon by a group of unqualified socialites at a cocktail party.

The further context (or conclusion you, the listener/reader, is expected to draw) of Ted Cruz being a republican legislator operating under a democrat president (Obama), discussing the plans and conduct of a Republican Legislature operating under a Democrat President, is that the government shutdown was a good idea then, produced a successful outcome then, is a good idea now and will produce a successful outcome again.

1995/1996 shutdowns were in the 104th US Congress when both the Senate and Hose of Representatives had Republican majorities for the first time since the 1950s, under Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. The major difference between the circumstances of that shutdown and this one were that in 1995, the House and Senate passed a spending bill that was vetoed by Bill Clinton, where as in this situation no spending bill could even pass both Chambers of Congress.

My point is that Government shutdowns are infrequent and distinct enough in circumstance that any conventional wisdom one would attempt to draw from them to apply to the future is suspect - it's just going to be different every time. I would say that this drawback applies to Ted Cruz's new term as well.

Additionally, there is a long standing tradition of criticizing everyone in the United States legislature as being an unqualified socialite and, as a result, the entire conduct of Congress is really just a big cocktail party in and of itself. (I gather that British English speakers hold to this tradition as well.)

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Furthermore, criticizing the correctness of anything within the sphere of "political science", as reported in the news and as practiced by politicians, is pretty much creating a tautology. It is by it's nature inexact and therefore, like economics, almost entirely constructed of conventional wisdom.

I think bib is right on the money by saying Cruz is applying (or trying to apply) sarcasm, but his terms are similar enough that I don't really see the point in his distinction between "cocktail party" and "conventional". Time will tell, however, whether Cruz's coinage will gain currency and circulate.

Disclaimer: I'm a US citizen in Texas, so Ted Cruz is officially my senator.

  • +1, agreed. The "Sort of", to me supports your idea that Cruz is mixing phrases. I think it would be reasonable to restructure the phrase as something like "conventional wisdom of the cocktail circuit" or "conventional wisdom amongst the cocktail chatter".
    – hunter2
    Aug 1, 2013 at 4:39
  • Good point. I had been mentally parsing it as "This sort of..." rather than "The sort of...". I had thought the pronoun implied he was directly referring to a specific idea. But his use of the indefinite article really makes it sound like he's just riffing on the theme of budgetary chicken.
    – Patrick M
    Aug 1, 2013 at 16:20

It's entirely possible Sen. Cruz made this phrase up on the fly. If that were the case, I'd say the meaning is suggested by the context he provided.

The way the sentence is structured implies that he's referring to a group of people (those who frequently attend cocktail parties in DC), as opposed to an individual. Wisdom is defined by Wikipedia as "a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding." Notably lacking in this definition is a reference to particular empirical research or data, which he clearly indicates is the problem with the collective wisdom of people who chatter at cocktail parties.

In other words, a lot of people at cocktail parties may take one position or another on a particular issue, but that doesn't mean they're correct, even if they all agree; there's a difference between "chatter" and a scientific presentation.


I don't believe that wisdom means a rash idea or plan. Rather, in the phrase, wisdom seems to mean something like

the body of knowledge and experience that develops within a specified society or period: Eastern wisdom

Cocktail chatter refers to the constant stream of discussion among attendees of cocktail parties, which are ubiquitous and abundant in Washington society. It also suggests that the information is casually exchanged, and repeated like gossip. It suggests that the information lacks detailed thought, analysis, or most importantly, objective support, for its observations and conclusions.

The pairing of this phrase with wisdom is sarcasm. The suggestion is that it is not wisdom at all, and Senator Cruz claims to be able to debunk this particular piece of data, which he may consider misinformation, at best, and perhaps disinformation, at worst.

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    Yoichi didn't say that wisdom implies a rash idea, but rather that the full phrase cocktail chatter wisdom does – which you appear to agree with. Thus, I don't get your first sentence; it seems unnecessarily confrontational. Aug 1, 2013 at 3:30
  • 1
    @BraddSzonye I am a strong proponent of a civil tone on this site, and on rereading, I agree my original sentence could be taken as harsh. I have modified it. Thank you. I do not believe that either wisdom or the whole phrase refers to a plan. As to rash idea, while it the phrase suggests lacking deep or informed analysis, I don't think there is any implication of rash. Undoubtedly some cocktail chatter is made up on the spot, but one of its characteristics is that it is often old, repeated over and over.
    – bib
    Aug 1, 2013 at 11:41

In Brazil we have a very similiar expression used with the intent of disqualifying what someone said in a sarcastic way.

What Yoichi Oishi is perfect, but I bet he does not found many results in English because it was ported from another language (Spanish? Portuguese?).

In Portuguese the expression is "filosofia de botequim", that is literaly translated to "cocktail chatter philosophy" and means someone said something with apparent value, but is just unwise commom sense. There is a lot of search results to this.

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