- 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 www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
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.
I would say yes, or just "pedo". Went to one of the same high schools as Elon so could have been local lingo.— Gillian Rightford (@grightford) September 17, 2019
I have mates that were in his old highschool that use the phrase quite often. So perhaps it's just from that part.— John Thisismyname (@HeatingHades) September 17, 2019
Yes it’s true. It was used in the 70s and 80s when my brothers and I were at school and university. It was a mildly derogatory term for anyone who was irritating or who did something stupid. Mostly just limited to “pedo”. Never meant as a word to accuse someone of paedophilia.— Joburg lawyer (@joburglawyer) September 17, 2019
I’ve heard it in some circles, ya.— xsyn (@xsyn) September 17, 2019
But the phrase was apparently not as common as Musk makes it out to be.
I never heard it used that way, and I’m the same age as him. Maybe it was a Pretoria thing, but it’s more likely just a legal evasion thing.— Jacques Rousseau (@JacquesR) September 17, 2019
I'm four years older than him. Didn't use it when I was growing up in Durban— Joe Stolley (@joestolley) September 17, 2019
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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