“Une connerie” is a French term, and it’s pronounced like the famous Scottish actor’s name. It’s a vulgar term for an idiotic idea. It also translates as crap or dogshit, or a term for a stupid, possibly dirty, joke.

Pierre Trudeau caused a stir when he used the word publicly to comment on the idea of special status for Quebec during a press conference in 1967. It was considered to have been vulgar and inappropriately colorful for his role as Justice Minister, the process of constitutional debate, the issue, and the times. It was a deliberate slap at the pretentious Quebec intellectuals who were promoting the idea and a strategic response to the infamous insult offered to Canada in its Centennial year by General DeGaulle when he saluted “Vive le Quebec Libre.” It marked Trudeau as committed to his own rational ideas, and prepared to defend his ideas passionately as well as rationally. It was a scandalous remark because the English speaking media were convinced that he had used the word in its scatological sense or that there was a connection between the word “connerie” and the word “con” which made it impossible to translate the remark for a polite readership. “Con” means imbecile, but it is also translated as a vulgarity. (As far as I can tell, connerie does not have that overtone although the English media were frightened of the term).

Ideas turn up in the news and the arts, and are uncritically adopted and perpetuated by commentators. These ideas start with a dubious theory – or a deliberate lie – and they stay around because a lot of people adopt the theory and its terminology as if it had become a proven truth. They are incorporated into movies and drama, and packaged artfully and powerfully. More and more people use the ideas and the language in their own talking and thinking, without any clear idea of what the words mean. Myths, metaphors and legends grow and dominate people’s perceptions and judgments.