Elon Musk is right, ‘pedo guy’ was slang in South Africa in the 1980s – but it wasn’t that common

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News analysis

Elon Musk joined Joe Rogan for an interview on "The Joe Rogan Experience" where he smoked pot on camera.
Joe Rogan Experience/YouTube
  • Elon Musk has told an American court he did not – initially – call a rescue diver a pedophile, because that is not what "pedo guy" meant in South African when he was growing up.
  • It seems Musk isn't entirely making that up; some of his contemporaries remember the phrase as a slang insult.
  • But Musk's claim that it was a "common" South Africanism is a little harder to accept.
  • For more stories go to 

Elon Musk is right, it seems: in the 1980s the phrase "pedo guy" was used as an insult in Pretoria, where he grew up – and it was a generic reference that did not necessarily mean someone was a pedophile.

But telling a court in the United States that the slang was "common" in South Africa may be stretching the truth, according to other people's recollections.

Musk made the claim this week as part of his defence of a defamation action by British diver Vernon Unsworth, who helped save a Thai soccer team trapped in a cave – an effort during which one diver died.

See also: Elon Musk calls British diver from the Thai cave rescue a 'pedo guy' after he said Musk 'can stick his submarine where it hurts'

"Pedo guy", Musk said in a court filing, "is synonymous with 'creepy old man' and is used to insult a person's appearance and demeanor, not accuse a person of acts of pedophilia."

“‘Pedo guy’ was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up,” he said.

Musk grew up in Pretoria in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and finished high school before moving first to Canada and later the the US.

While "pedo guy" does not appear to have been documented as slang at the time, other South Africans recall it being used.

But the phrase was apparently not as common as Musk makes it out to be.

Musk's court filings also revealed he had spent the equivalent of around R740,000 on a private investigator to look into Unsworth after their spat.

Musk said in his deposition it was this investigator's findings that led him to double down on the remark and call Unsworth a "child rapist" in a September email to BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac.

"I was like, well, what if this is a real situation? What if what we have here is another Jeffrey Epstein," Musk said, according to the filings. "We should, you know - I have this - I am told this information. I don't know if it is true. But what if we have another Jeffrey Epstein on our hands? And what if he uses whatever celebrity he gains from this cave rescue to shield his bad deeds? This would be terrible."

The lawyer questioning Musk pointed out that Epstein wasn't in the news when Musk corresponded with the BuzzFeed reporter in September 2018.

Jeffrey Epstein's case only returned to the spotlight when the Miami Herald published a major investigation in November 2018, two months after Musk had hired a PI to look into Unsworth.

Musk responded to this apparent discrepancy with: "Yes. I'm using this as an example of, you know, if this guy is actually doing bad things and could potentially be using the good reputation acquired from the cave rescue to do bad things," Musk replied.

Musk added that he had never spoken to the PI directly.

In a court filing Jared Birchall, the president of Musk's family office, said the PI reported to him that Unsworth had met his wife when she was eleven or twelve, and that he had been unpopular in the cave rescue team because he was "creepy." In his deposition Musk said that he now believes the investigator was "just taking us for a ride."

Musk's name has cropped up in reporting about Jeffrey Epstein's movements among the Silicon Valley elite. Epstein told a New York Times reporter he had advised Musk during Tesla's tumultuous summer of 2018, which Musk denies. Musk also attended an elite private dinner in 2011 along with other tech moguls including Jeff Bezos at which Epstein was in attendance.

Additional reporting by Isobel Asher Hamilton.

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