‘To musk’ is my ‘Word of the Year’
ANDREW PHILLIPS ANDREW PHILLIPS IS A TORONTOBASED STAFF COLUMNIST FOR THE STAR’S OPINION PAGE. REACH HIM VIA EMAIL: APHILLIPS@THESTAR.CA
It’s that time of year again, when Big Dictionary tries to grab a little pre-holiday publicity by nominating a “Word of the Year” that captures the spirit of the previous 12 months.
This year Merriam-Webster proclaims the “Word of the Year” to be “authentic.” In a time of deepfakes and post-truth, it reasons, there’s a longing for the authentic. “We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity,” says the company’s editor. Fair enough.
Collins Dictionary goes superboring and nominates “AI,” for artificial intelligence, based on the undeniable fact that everyone’s talking about it. Cambridge Dictionary shows a bit more imagination with “hallucinate,” which has been repurposed to describe moments when generative AI systems like ChatGPT go haywire and spit out false information, known in the industry as “hallucinations.”
My own nomination for “Word of the Year” also involves using an old word in a new way, to sum up something that seems quintessentially 2023.
It’s a verb, “to musk,” and it refers to those situations when someone or something seems to have everything going in its favour but manages against all the odds to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The individual who has most conspicuously musked himself this year is, of course, the person from whom I’ve borrowed the word — Elon Musk himself.
Here’s a man who almost literally had everything — a reputation as a creative if eccentric genius, an astonishing record of reinventing entire industries, and of course the vast fortune that comes with such success.
And yet, in the past year, we’ve watched as Musk’s self-destructive tendencies, evident even as he was building Tesla and Space X in defiance of an army of doubters, overwhelm the positive side.
His takeover of Twitter/X has been a disaster for the company and a personal debacle for him. And now he seems to have gone right over the edge by endorsing the notion that Jews are promoting policies that import “hordes of minorities” to replace white people — so-called “great replacement” theory.
The blowback is fierce, as it should be. Big advertisers like IBM, Apple and Disney are boycotting X. Musk has gone from business superhero to cultural supervillain. This time it looks like the man with everything has finally put himself on a path to destruction. Elon Musk, in other words, is on the way to being well and truly musked.
This is a useful concept, and it doesn’t just apply to individuals.
The next time the Leafs blow a 4-1 lead in the third period, for example, we can shake our heads and say “they really musked that one.”
Entire countries can musk themselves. Famously, a century ago Argentina was one of the richest places in the world. It had enormous natural wealth and a per-capita income rivalling that of Canada. But Argentina blew its chances through epic political mismanagement that continues to this day (its new president, Javier Milei, is a chainsawwielding right-winger whose nickname is “El Loco” — the madman.)
Argentina, it appears, is determined to keep on musking itself right into the ground.
Which brings us in an extremely roundabout way to Pierre Poilievre. If ever there was a Canadian politician who seems to be holding all the right cards, it’s Poilievre — voters are fed up with the Trudeau government and the Conservatives have a double-digit lead in the polls that grows wider by the month. You’d think all Poilievre had to do was look like a PM-in-waiting and let that apple fall from the tree.
But lately we’re seeing more and more signs that the Conservative leader is at risk of being musked — or more precisely musking himself. He’s acting in a way that makes him look less prime ministerial, not more — starting with his ridiculous accusation last week that the government is forcing its carbon tax agenda on Ukraine (it’s doing no such thing).
There’s lots of time to go before an election, and plenty of opportunities for Poilievre to do better. If he wants to win he should learn from the past week and draw an important lesson: don’t musk it up.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited