ChatGPT: levels of diction, also poetry, also Lem

I recently chatted with ChatGPT (on December 9), just to see what sorts of things it would say in response to various prompts. Here’s a transcript of some parts of that chat.

(The first response paragraph is a little long and dull, but I’m including it here in its entirety for comparison with the next two response paragraphs.)

(If you’re not interested in the prose parts of this, scroll down for some AI-generated poetry.)

Me: Is there any business like show business?

GPT: The phrase "there is no business like show business" is a well-known saying that is often associated with the entertainment industry. The phrase is often used to refer to the unique qualities of the entertainment industry, such as the glamour, the excitement, and the high stakes that are associated with it. The entertainment industry encompasses a wide range of fields, including television, film, music, theater, and live performance, and it is known for its competitiveness and its ability to generate significant amounts of money and fame for those who are successful within it. While there may be other businesses that share some of the same characteristics as the entertainment industry, it is often considered to be a unique and dynamic field that is unlike any other.

Me: Please answer the same question but use more informal words.

GPT: The entertainment industry is a special kind of business. It's full of glitz and glamour, and it's known for being exciting and high-stakes. There's no other business quite like it. The entertainment biz includes things like TV, movies, music, and live shows. It's a competitive field, and it can make people rich and famous if they're successful. Sure, there might be other businesses that have some of the same features, but the entertainment industry is in a league of its own.

Me: Now again but using very jargony business words.

GPT: The entertainment sector is a niche industry characterized by its glitz and glamour, as well as its high-stakes and dynamic nature. It is a multi-faceted field that encompasses various sub-sectors such as television, film, music, and live performance. The entertainment industry is known for its cutthroat competition and its potential to generate significant wealth and fame for those who are successful within it. While there may be other industries that exhibit similar traits, the entertainment sector is unique in its combination of these characteristics and is therefore considered a distinct and specialized area of commerce.

Me: Can you quote the first ten lines of a good translation of The Odyssey?

GPT: Here is a possible translation of the first ten lines of The Odyssey, which is an epic poem by the ancient Greek poet Homer:

Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many ways,

who was driven far journeys, after he had sacked

the sacred citadel of Troy.

Many were they whose cities he saw,

whose minds he learned of, many the pains he suffered

in his spirit on the wide sea,

struggling for his own life and the return of his companions.

Even so he could not save his companions,

hard as he strove to; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,

fools who devoured the cattle of the Sun,

and the Sungod blotted them out.

[Note: That appears to be very similar to, but not quite the same as, the beginning of the 1967 Richard Lattimore translation of The Odyssey. GPT didn’t credit the translator, and I neglected to ask it who the translator was. As I was writing up this post, I went back and asked the question again, to see if I could follow up with a question about the translator; this time, GPT gave me a slightly different (but mostly identical) translation, and it claimed without prompting that this was the Robert Fitzgerald translation. It was not. I asked it if it was sure that this was the Fitzgerald translation; it said yes. I said no, it’s really not; it apologized but gave no further information. So here’s yet another reminder: don’t trust anything that a text generator tells you. OK, back to the original chat.]

[I point out that that’s eleven lines, not ten; GPT agrees and apologizes, and gives me just the first ten lines. I continue:]

Me: Can you paraphrase the first 11 lines of The Odyssey in your modern casual speech? [I had started to write “in your own words” but then changed my mind, but accidentally left “your” there.]

GPT: Here is a possible paraphrase of the first 11 lines of The Odyssey in modern, casual speech:

Hey, Muse, tell me the story of the guy who went on all kinds of adventures

after he sacked the city of Troy.

He saw a lot of places and met a lot of people,

and he went through a lot of tough stuff on the sea

trying to save himself and his friends.

But he couldn't save them, even though he tried really hard.

They were destroyed because of their own stupid mistakes,

eating the Sun god's cows and getting themselves cursed.

I was really pleased and impressed, and amused, by that paraphrase.

At this point, I thought it would be interesting to give ChatGPT the same prompt that’s given to a poetry-writing machine in Stanisław Lem’s science fiction book The Cyberiad, as translated into English by Michael Kandel.

Me: Please write a poem about a haircut. But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom. Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter "s".

GPT: Here is a possible six-line poem about a haircut, written in a lofty and noble style and with every word beginning with the letter "s":

Sated with sorrow and sighs,

She sat for a haircut with skillful hands.

Scissors snipped, strands slipped away,

Softness smoothed, shape shifted to please.

She stood, a new self, sleek and serene,

Stronger and braver, ready to face the world.

That’s awfully impressive. It doesn’t quite match the prompt; among other things, as I commented to ChatGPT, not every word of the poem started with S. It agreed with me about that and apologized.

For anyone unfamiliar with the original, here’s Kandel’s version of the poem (content warning for mention of suicide):

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.

She scissored short. Sorely shorn,

Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,

Silently scheming,

Sightlessly seeking

Some savage, spectacular suicide.

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