Here is a quote from Elon Musk's tweet:

"I Am Become Meme, Destroyer Of Shorts"

I have never come across such an expression as "be+ become." As far as my syntax knowledge goes, V+ing has to be used after the verb be in order to construct present continuous, or it could make sense by simply delete "am" from the sentence.

So, is this because I have some dead zones in my grammar, or Musk makes a syntactical mistake?

Also, another question is what does "destroyer of shorts" mean?


4 Answers 4


"I am become" is an archaic perfect (= "I have become"). Here Elon Musk's phrase parodies a quote by Oppenheimer.

Background to Parodic Reference

Robert Oppenheimer was an American physicist often dubbed the father of the atomic bomb. Following a test detonation he remarked:

... that it brought to mind words from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." (Wikipedia)

The Gita is Hindu scripture.


This is an archaic usage. For example, in the 1611 King James Bible, John 5:43 says "I am come in my Father's name". Modern translations always say "I have come". Oppenheimer's translation of the Gita likewise used the archaic construction.

In modern English, the perfect is formed using the auxiliary "have" plus the past participle.

In old texts or texts trying to sound deliberately archaic, you may find that verbs such as "come", "become", "rise", "fall" form their perfects with "be". In the case of "rise" and "fall" this could alternatively be understood as "be" plus participial adjective.

Interestingly, if you study French, German or Danish you'll find that a small number of verbs (generally including the equivalents to "come", "become", "rise", "fall") form their perfects with the equivalent to "be", while all the rest form perfects with the equivalent to "have".


  • Whether Oppenheimer's translation of the Gita is accurate is irrelevant to the fact that it's become a widely cited quotation.
  • There have been previous parodies of or references to Oppenheimer's quote, including "I am become Garfield" and "I am become Christmas" (the latter the name of an album).
  • "Destroyer of shorts" is also a reference to Musk's attempts to frustrate the efforts of opportunistic short-term investors engaged in shorting.
  • The bare noun "meme" here isn't strictly grammatical ("meme" is a count noun so we would normally expect "a meme", with an article) but the article has been omitted in order better to parallel the quote being parodied.
  • 1
    Not sure why the comments pointing out the missing context have been deleted - the edit also completely changes the answer by adding somebody else's correct answer as a an edit. (Original answer just gave grammar technicalities, not Oppenheimer etc context) Mar 29, 2021 at 11:07
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    @StackerLee - the answerer here correctly edited the answer to be better. This is a normal and correct thing to do.
    – Fattie
    Mar 29, 2021 at 11:33
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    "but the article has been omitted in order better to parallel the quote being parodied." Here, "Meme" is used as a proper noun, just as "Death" is used in the original. This explains the lack of an article, and also the capitalization (pun intended). Mar 29, 2021 at 11:58
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    @KarlKnechtel Arguably. Personification perhaps. However, regarding the capitalisation, you're mistaken, since in the original tweet, "meme" is lower-case ( twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1357269755112148993?s=20 ).
    – rjpond
    Mar 29, 2021 at 12:11
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    notably in the Germanic languages I speak (German, Dutch), the be-based perfect forms are based on "verbs of transition", i.e. usually verbs that describe some change in location or state of the subject (like come or become) see e.g. germanveryeasy.com/perfekt#verbs-haben-sein
    – Sty
    Mar 30, 2021 at 11:21

It is a parody of I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

Constructions such as "I am come", "He is become X" were used in English several centuries ago but are now obsolete in everyday speech.

  • 27
    How is this not the accepted answer.
    – eps
    Mar 27, 2021 at 17:21
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    I'd add some context. This is a famous quote from one of the scientists who invented atomic bombs. He thought it was so dangerous that he had to quote a god from Hindu scripture to describe his feelings. The quote caught on since it captured the scariness of the nuclear era. Mar 27, 2021 at 17:28
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    @OwenReynolds Oppenheimer, specifically, right?
    – Hearth
    Mar 27, 2021 at 17:36
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    You should also add that "destroyer of shorts" references the GameStop short squeeze
    – Polygnome
    Mar 27, 2021 at 19:39
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    mistranslating, rather than misquoting, perhaps. And this isn't Oppenheimer's translation. So "accurately quoting a mistranlation". The main issue is in the translation of "kalah", literally "time" but sometimes used figuratively in the sense of "One's time (of death) will come". But the earlier description of Vishnu's universal form as being like 1000 suns rising at once, and the fear that this inspired in Arjuna feed into Oppenheimer's thoughts at the Trinity test.
    – James K
    Mar 27, 2021 at 21:45

Also, another question is what does "destroyer of shorts" mean?

TLDR: Elon does not like people who short sell stocks (aka "shorts" or "shorters") and is happy to destroy them (ie make them lose a lot of money).

This is more of a question for SE finance but the rough overview is:


When you buy a share of stock you do so because you expect the price to go up. Long story short (heh), shorting is a procedure that you do because you are betting on the price of the stock to go down. A person who short sells a company can also be referred to as a shorter or short. Buying a short can also be called having a "short position" on the company.

Obviously, most CEO's don't like it when there's a lot of short positions on their stock, because that means a lot of people expect their stock to decline in value. Elon is notorious for being extremely vocal about this. Shorters can be seen in a nefarious light if it is perceived that they are actually trying to harm a company's reputation in order to make the stock go down and their short positions more valuable. This is actually a big component of all the recent Gamestop/Reddit stuff you may have recently heard about.

The final key is that shorting is a very risky proposition. When you buy 1 share of stock for $100 the most you can lose is $100. When you buy a short position your risk is unlimited. So Elon is bragging that by Tesla's stock price continuing to rise, he is destroying people who had a short position on Tesla. For more information on potential losses from short selling @Yuri.teacher.English pointed out this site in the comments: https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/05/shortsaleloss.asp

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    To add to this, when a stock goes down the value of the short position rises proportionally to the fall in price you predicted. On the other hand, when the price goes up, your short position loses more and more money with each increase. Source: investopedia.com/ask/answers/05/shortsaleloss.asp Mar 27, 2021 at 18:27
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    You didn't really explain short selling. You actually borrow the stock at whatever the market price is from your broker*. You then sell those stocks to other people. Then, when the price goes down, you buy back the stocks and give them to the broker to whom you owe the stock, and you get to pocket the difference between the value of the stock when you borrowed it and the market price at which you bought them back because you don't have pay back the market value of the stock to the broker...
    – Lambie
    Mar 27, 2021 at 18:45
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    The quote is from an article posted on feb 4th. It references the GameStop short squeeze, in which Musk was one of the players (by tweeting, among other things, "GameStonks!").
    – Polygnome
    Mar 27, 2021 at 19:49
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    @Lambie yes, I had a more technical answer written up but I think getting into the particulars of shorting and short squeezes is well beyond the scope of this question and substack. What's more important to understanding the essence of the quote is that elon hates people who short sell and is happy to make them lose a lot of money.
    – eps
    Mar 27, 2021 at 21:04
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    @Yuri.teacher.English thank you, I have added that information to the answer.
    – eps
    Mar 27, 2021 at 21:16

I think Musk is referring to a quote made famous by Robert Oppenheimer. Upon witnessing the detonation of the first atomic bomb, Oppenheimer recalled a line from the Hindu sacred text "Bhagavad-Gita."

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

I won't pretend to know Hindu scripture, so I'll leave any explanation of the religious side to people better trained than I. For Oppenheimer, the line is often taken to mean his horror when witnessing what he helped create. When I was researching this answer, I saw it might also be an attempt to say, "it was my duty to create this, no matter how terrible it might be."

For Musk's adaptation, he made two changes. First, he said, "I am become meme". As other comments noted, this is archaic usage with a misuse of count nouns. A correct usage would be, "I have become a meme." English speakers would forgive this usage for two reasons. First, Musk is trying to parallel an existing quote, and minor errors are generally acceptable in order to match the original. Second, the original quote comes from a religious text, and religious texts often use archaic language. Even modern translations will deliberately choose archaic language.

I don't know what he means by "meme", but I'll guess. Memes generally refer to pictures with humorous or ironic text written over them. More generally, memes can also mean expressions that appear repeatedly. Perhaps Musk means that he is no longer an entrepreneur or an inventor, but has now been reduced to that guy who "destroys shorts."

The second change he made was to say he is the "destroyer of shorts." Musk has gotten in trouble for his attempts to disrupt short sellers, investors to engage in high-risk deals that gamble that a given stock will lose value. He is especially critical of short sellers that gamble that his companies will lose value.

If you combine these changes with the holy scripture from which he started, you get a quote that implies that Musk has some sort of holy mandate to ruin investors that bet against his companies. I find it a bit disingenuous to equate a holy text and one of the deadliest weapons known to man to a pissing match between an entrepreneur and a few stock brokers.

If you wish to read more about the history of the original quote, here is my source: Oppenheimer quotes: the story behind 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds' | WIRED UK


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