I believe that several words or phrases exist to describe the practice of thinking in a certain way or performing a certain action simply because "that's how it's always been done." Another way of phrasing this thought model is "We do this because it's best," with no proof of if that thing is in actuality the best. An absence of total failure or complete disaster is often given as support for the behavior. Also, the implied circular reasoning is "It's best because we do this." Ultimately, the actions are taken because the situation has never truly been studied and the best course of action has not yet been discovered.

I'm curious if there are

  1. Words to describe a person who thinks or behaves in the manner above.
  2. Phrases to describe the general thought process of the above manner.


I'll offer up my own phrase (that I only just now recalled as I typed the above paragraph):


Some possible antonyms to this concept would be:

  • Empirical / Empiricist
  • Didactic (Intended to teach as opposed to the above thought "intended to be a conformed to without thought")
  • Deductive (based on deduced premises)

6 Answers 6


While your question and its focus is slightly different from previous questions 28866 and 51451, some of the answers to those questions apply here. I'll mention those below, but first here are some words that were not mentioned in the previous answers: ovine, staid, stodgy, complacent, traditional.

  • ovine - Of, pertaining to, resembling, or being a sheep.
  • staid - Always fixed in the same location; stationary; composed, regular, sedate, steady
  • stodgy - dull, old-fashioned
  • traditional - Observant of tradition; attached to old customs; old-fashioned.
    [also see conventional, customary, establishment, orthodox]
  • complacent -
    Uncritically satisfied with oneself or one's achievements; smug
    Apathetic with regard to an apparent need or problem.

For question 1 regarding "words to describe a person who thinks or behaves" in a "that's how it's done" manner, answers to question 28866 mention close-minded, obstinate, dogmatic, narrow-minded, incurious, uninterested, uninquiring, uninquisitive, indifferent, parochial, provincial, Luddites, willfully ignorant, stick in the mud, philistine, stubborn, old dog, unteachable, ignoramus. It also mentions one of Monica's suggestions, hidebound. Answers to question 51451 mention some of the same, plus blinkered, obsessed, tunnel vision, locked-in, myopic, navel-gazer, self-centered, ostrich.

Several of the words mentioned above, indeed probably most of them, can apply to question 2 as well. But it's difficult to come up with phrases without knowing more about rationales; whether fear of the unknown, fear of schedule problems, self-knowledge of one's abilities or of co-workers' abilities, stupidity, brilliance, ... the scope is so wide open that that part of your question may not be answerable.

  • 1
    Excellent and thorough. Luddite is a word that my memory was grasping for. The vein of "Orthodoxy" and "tradition" is definitely where my mind is going towards for this idea.
    – Wesley
    Jan 8, 2012 at 8:12
  • Accepted for thoroughness.
    – Wesley
    Jan 9, 2012 at 18:24

A person who acts without analyzing could be said to be uncritical.

One who does what has always been done, without re-evaluating traditions in the light of new information, might be hide-bound.

  • 2
    +1 for the word hidebound! I've never heard of that before.
    – Wesley
    Jan 8, 2012 at 5:37

A word which got short shrift in the answers above but goes to the heart of the question is "dogmatic". It means done according to dogma, or received truth, without any independent thinking. It can be applied to either the person or the action.

  • Yes, dogma is a good word for this type of thinking, although I was under the impression that it was generally received in a more positive light than some of the other words. Running dogma through a thesaurus has some good words too.
    – Wesley
    Jan 8, 2012 at 21:51
  • "Dogmatic" is basically descriptive, but often there is an implied judgment. The word is often used in a context which condemns a lack of critical thinking or unwillingness to listen to reason.
    – MetaEd
    Jan 9, 2012 at 15:21

I'd describe this behaviour as "orthodox"; that word has a blend of meanings, indicating both that the behaviour is normal for its context, but also that it is based on adherence to a doctrine. That the doctrine has no base in reason is left as an implication.

You could also say "conventional", again because it suggests that someone is following a convention rather than doing the right thing; "traditional" would be similar.

The term "best practice" is bandied about in the software world to describe behaviours which are widely agreed to be good, or are asserted to be good by some authority; these best practices are very often presented without any justification as to why they are better than other practices. In my mind, this term is therefore synonymous with "baseless assertion". Others evidently don't read it that way!

  • 1
    I like how "Orthodox" implies religiosity in performing the habit. And oddly, the phrases and words that I'm searching for are on an article concerning "best practices" that I'm hoping to publish soon. You saw right through me! =)
    – Wesley
    Jan 8, 2012 at 20:40

Not quite a fit, but a "jobsworth" is a person who follows the rules without thinking or applying common sense, just because they are the rules.

Or the woman who was caught out by holding her husband's fishing rod while he put a maggot on the hook. She was holding the rod, but it was her husband who had the licence to fish, and inspectors caught her.

(Not very good Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/597889.stm )

Wikipedia has a nicer description, but no examples.


I suppose it's useful to understand the amount of workplace unrest in Britain in the 1970s to get a real feel for what 'jobsworth' means.

  • 1
    Excellent word! Being American, I'm not familiar with it nor the culture surronding it. I've never heard it's patron phrase "It's more than my job's worth." I like this one!
    – Wesley
    Jan 8, 2012 at 20:39

received wisdom/conventional wisdom/accepted practice

As in "received wisdom suggests removing and securing the ignition keys before putting your hands anywhere near the fanbelt".

There's also "doing it by the book". Someone who insists on that might be described as a stickler.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.