a bit of a con


New Member
Hi, I'm reading a book, Lessons from the Top, by Gavin Esler, and there are some phrases I don't understand.
What does the phrase "a bit of a con" and "shrewd lesson" mean?

It's from the paragraph below:

"Angelina Jolie said to me that in Africa and in other places where she was unknown, she had to describe what she
did as a job. Children she met in Sierra Leone would express astonishment that she was paid for ‘dressing up’ and ‘pretending’, as they put it. She laughed as she told the story, suggesting that the children were, in fact, truly wise. She accepted in a good humoured way their implicit judgement that her Hollywood stardom is all false, all show, a bit of a con, and presented the story as a shrewd lesson in modesty. Angelina Jolie was clearly able to poke fun at her ‘phoney’ Hollywood self, which made the rest of her seem more ‘authentic’." --Lessons from the Top, by Gavin Esler

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    Senior Member
    American English
    Welcome to the forum. :)

    One of our requirements is that you tell us the source of any quotation. Give us that and we'll be glad to help. Thank you.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    The first definition of con in the Wordreference dictionary is the relevant one.

    Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers::

    con /kɒn/ informaln
    • (as modifier): con man
    vb (cons, conning, conned)
    • (transitive) to swindle or defraud
    Etymology: 19th Century: from confidence

    My explanation

    A con is an abbreviation for confidence-trick (a swindle).


    Senior Member
    English - British
    The phrase 'a bit of a [something]' means 'a small or minor [something]'.

    Thus 'He is a bit of a trickster' means 'He is a minor trickster'.
    'That is a bit of a problem' means 'That is a small problem'.


    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    The children saw her profession as an actor ("actress" some would say) as a deception, something dishonest.
    It was a lesson for her, because she learned about that attitude toward acting.
    But I don't understand the use of "shrewd" here. It usually means clever, artful, and calculating.
    It seems to me that the children were just the opposite: they were naive, ingenuous, and innocent.
    The lesson came about by accident, not by intention.


    Senior Member
    English - British
    Esler is saying that Jolie presented the story to him as a shrewd lesson in modesty.
    He thinks that she was shrewd to present it to him as a lesson by which she could learn modesty from the children; or else that she presented herself to him as someone shrewd enough to learn modesty from them.


    New Member
    Thanks for all your help! There are some more sentence and phrase I don't understand from this same book, and hope you can also help me. I'll post the questions later. Thank you so much again.
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