What’s behind Elon Musk’s ‘X’ complex?

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X is the unknown, thanks to Rene Descartes. The French philosopher, writing in La Géometrie some 400 years ago, awarded the symbol its own mystique, along with Y and Z: three bundles of hidden values. Though really X has been trading in mystery for eons, from pirate maps to poison jars, from porn to a lover’s peck.

X meant 10 to old Romans. For Greeks, X was chi. Still is, the crisscross occupying their alphabet’s third last position, just as our X does. X can mean “sign here” on a document, or the stand-in scratches of an unlettered signatory.

So extra: Elon Musk sure loves his Xs.Credit: Reuters

X is a teacher’s tsk-tsk, a chromosome, a Malcolm, a vote, a tenpin strike. It’s a sip of XXXX, an antique Nokia, a tic-tac-toer. X is the secrecy of X-Files, the insanity of X Games. X embodies the distance of Xanadu and Planet X, the mutant X-Men, the work-life balancers of Gen X – including a baby like Elon Musk, born smack-bang in the Gen X sweep, the PayPal zillionaire intent on making X his own, it seems.

How else to read his recent Twitter rebrand, dumping the blue bird for two crossed sticks? The move accords with the Tesla tycoon’s SpaceX, X.com, xAI, and even his own infant son, X Æ A-Xii, better known as X, poor kid.

Why X, you ask? The whole Musk fetish, I mean. You’ll need to send the man an X as that’s the new word for tweet, apparently. Or maybe an ex – nobody knows, except Mr X, who’s somehow exempt from examination. Amid the rebrand, executed overnight, the online world has lost a simple verb, plus an iconic bird, both exiled from the micro-blogging platform with a swift ctrl+X.

Linda Yaccarino, the site’s CEO, and the algebraic Y between Elon’s X and Meta’s Zuckerberg, defended the debrand (as some critics label it) with talk of a grander vision: “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centred in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities.”

Alluding to X’s other meaning, an emblem equally familiar to Descartes and every other maths geek, namely the signal to multiply. If Musk aspires to build an everything app, as Yaccarino suggests, then X may flag that long-term ambition, where cat video x chat x news x music x maps x ride-sharing x eat-in mi xao mem noodles = X.

Alphabetically, X has the advantage of owning fewer rivals in the directory, and the stock index. Unless you vie with Mexican chocolate (xocolatl) or the Mexican hairless (Xoloitzcuintli), you stand alone. Though car-makers have lately been smitten by X’s exotic charms, our sale yards agleam with Nissan X-Trails and Xterras, Citroen’s Xantia, plus X-type Jags and X-class Mercs. Just as your bathroom cabinet is a trove of Xalatan, Xartemis and Xanax (not that I looked).

Killing the bird, and losing x-amount of users along the way, Musk has turned his X-brand into its own Brand X, the imagined rival of any promoted product. US word sleuth Barry Popik, even traced the original Brand X, right down to a 1929 campaign for Old Gold cigarettes, “outperforming Brand X”. Question being: will Elon’s X run out of puff?

Or drag on, as one-time Twitter slowly expires, easing into extinction? Will your daily fix devolve into your ex? Time will tell what the times-symbol portends, though whenever I see that X logo, observing my daily social scroll, my limbic system thinks “forbidden”. Danger, do not enter. No admittance! Or sadly, that last warning’s anagram: contaminated.

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