French word of the day: Complotisme

French word of the day: Complotisme
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
It's not a new phenomenon, but it's on the rise in France (and elsewhere).

Why do I need to know complotisme?

Because it’s increasingly becoming part of everyday debates.

What does it mean?

With the rise of social media and the increasing polarisation of politics, many countries have had to deal with more and more of their citizens believing in conspiracy theories.

In France, though, there is a single word to describe this phenomenon.

Le complotisme is the act of believing in, and spreading, conspiracy theories. It is particularly useful because people who believe in one conspiracy theory often believe in several. The people who are taken in by these theories are called complotistes (conspiracy theorists).

Conspiracy theories have flourished in France since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, including the conviction that Covid was created in a laboratory.

Others predate the pandemic. A 2018 Ifop survey on behalf of the Jean Jaurès Foundation tested around a dozen common conspiracy theories, and found that 79 percent of French people believed in at least one of them.

Earlier this year, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left La France insoumise party, was accused of complotisme when he suggested there would be “a serious incident or a murder” in the final week of the upcoming presidential election which would be amplified by the media.

Use it like this

Il faut lutter contre le complotisme – We need to fight against conspiracy theories.

Le ministre a été accusée de complotisme – The minister was accused of believing in conspiracy theories.


Théorie du complot – Conspiracy theory

Infox – Fake news (although the English ‘fake news’ is often used in France as well)

Member comments

  1. This is similar to the Italian word ‘dietrologia’ (literally ‘behind ism’) subscribers to which refuse to believe the reasons offered for the occurrence of specific events, especially in that especially Italian connection between government, crime and terrorism, insisting instead that something or someone else lies ‘behind’ this. This was famously lambasted by the Sicilian writer Sciascia, especially with regard to the case of Aldo Moro, who argued that the government itself actually promoted conspiracy theories to conceal the truth about events.

    A few years ago I was enjoying a late night grappa outside a bar in Roma with my friend Fabio and remarked to him on the idiocy of nearly all conspiracy theories relying as they do on wholly unlikely levels of conspiracy and silence between entirely disparate groups with little or nothing to gain from such things. In turn he said that ‘dietrologia’ was so common in Italy as to have replaced football as the national sport. Thank God, we have cricket in England I replied. But, I conceded, given that post WWII political history in Italy, even up to the present day, was actually in many ways a history of a succession of conspiracies of one kind or another. But the main problem with conspiracy theory, or complotisme or dietrologia is they invariably allow the actual conspirators, the really guilty ones, to get away with it. Example? COVID-19 has had such devastating effects in the UK not because of any conspiracy by elites with Bill Gates and the like but because of the utter incompetence of the government, especially the Prime Minister. Which is why they continue to block any inquiry into their conduct.

    1. Boris Johnson’s government have realised that nobody cares about honour anymore. Nobody ever resigns. In the past their failures and abuses of the system would have led inevitably to either sacking or the honorable option. Nowadays they don’t care that there behaviour is an affront to decency.

    2. Small correction. What I meant to say above was: ‘… given that post WWII political history in Italy, even up to the present day, was actually in many ways a history of a succession of conspiracies of one kind or another then dietrologia could be seen as an entirely rational response. ‘

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