[Ads-l] Chat GPT on "gray" versus "grey"

Ben Yagoda byagoda at UDEL.EDU
Thu Mar 23 20:46:14 UTC 2023

For a book based on my blog Not One-Off Britishisms (notoneoffbritishisms.com), I have been looking into the two spellings “gray” (mostly American) and “grey” (mostly British, though gaining in the U.S., probably due in part to “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Fifty Shades of Grey”). I’ve been experimenting with ChatGPT and asked it about Noah Webster’s treatment of the spelling of the word. It provided me, among other information, with two quotes:

"Here's a quote from Noah Webster's 'An American Dictionary of the English Language' (1828) about the spelling of ‘gray': 'The common color of animals of the mouse kind is gray in America and grey in England. This difference of orthography renders it desirable to fix the orthography of this language on this point. In America, the spelling gray is most common in reputable authors, and is uniform in the best writings from the first settlement of the country. It has therefore a claim to preference. But usage, though not uniform, is in favor of grey in England, and this reason seems to give it a preference in a general system of the language.'

"Here's another quote from Noah Webster's 'The American Spelling Book' (1783), where he favored the spelling ''gray' over ‘grey': 'The first [spelling] is American, and the other English. The sound of the word is in favour of the former; and analogy requires us to adopt the latter. But custom, or long established use, has rendered it proper in England to write grey. In America, however, we write gray.’”

They’re great quotes, but the problem is I don’t trust them. In my brief experience with the chatbot, it’s provided me with some useful information, but in other cases it offers up bullshit. When challenged, it sometimes backs down, and sometimes doubles down. I have been unable to find these quotes in online versions of these texts, and when I asked Chat GPT to provide page numbers or links, it said it wasn’t able to do so, for reasons that sounded suspicious to me.

In any case, if anyone has insight or information about the provenance or accuracy of the two quotes, I would be grateful.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list