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

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 23 22:41:21 UTC 2023

It's easy enough to establish that these quotes are as bogus as any other
ones that ChatGPT generates. If they were real, then any phrase would show
up in a search on Google Books or Internet Archive, but they don't. AFAIK,
Noah Webster never held forth on the "gray" vs. "grey" distinction even if
he did give "gray" preferential treatment in his dictionaries and spellers.


On Thu, Mar 23, 2023 at 4:46 PM Ben Yagoda <byagoda at udel.edu> wrote:

> 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.
> Ben

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

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