11 Nov 2022 By theguardian
The battle to curb fake news and fake accounts has swerved into a linguistic debate over the meaning of tosh.
"What does a tosh look like?" Elon Musk tweeted on Thursday in reply to a British government minister who appealed to him to intervene after a false claim that he had resigned.
An email masquerading as an official Northern Ireland Office account was sent to newspapers on Wednesday night asserting that Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, had resigned.
"I have had the honour of serving as secretary of state for Northern Ireland; however, due to personal reasons I am stepping down from my role," it read.
Earlier on Wednesday Heaton-Harris delayed calling an election in Northern Ireland, a U-turn from previous vows to call a poll, which has dented his credibility.
The Northern Ireland Office issued a swift statement saying the resignation claim was false. Heaton-Harris followed up with his own rebuttal.
Musk, who bought Twitter last month, replied with his query about what a tosh was. It gained 2,000 likes in two hours.
Twitter users were left to guess if Musk was mocking the minister, cracking an offbeat joke or genuinely inquiring about the word's meaning.
The Concise Oxford dictionary says tosh is a noun from informal British English denoting "rubbish; nonsense", of unknown 19th-century origin. The Oxford Learner's online dictionary says it refers to "ideas, statements or beliefs that you think are silly or not true".
The Collins dictionary says tosh has an additional meaning in American English meaning "neat; tidy", or as a transitive verb meaning "to make neat or tidy".
Musk grew up in South Africa before moving to Canada and the US.
After Musk's enigmatic reply to Heaton-Harris, Twitter users offered their own definitions. "A slightly grittier form of piffle. Not dissimilar to hogwash," said one. "Very similar to a codswallop," said another. One posted a picture of the Scottish footballer Tosh McKinlay.
A parody account called "Chris no-Heaton-Harris", which adds a moustache to the minister's photo, responded to Musk. "Hello Elon! Listened in on your Twitter Space yesterday. Interesting stuff."
Other Twitter users noted that Musk does not control email and urged the minister to tweet less and focus more on the day job in Northern Ireland. "How would anyone actually notice if you'd resigned?" said one.