Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Memphis Stuff Alice

How well artificial intelligence (AI) works these days appears to depend on the quality of your pronunciation. Elegant speech (such as Brigitte’s) will be understood. My own rough speech is not.

What with Mother’s Day looming, Monique has present Brigitte with a long-wished-for device, a Smartphone. You can say “Ok, Google” to such a device on its “home page.” A blank screen then opens in response with the word “Listening…” visible. Now you can say a word out loud—and the built-in Google ap will then give you all sorts of appropriate links.

I thought I’d try that and said: “Mephistopheles.”

What Google heard me say in my rough, un-hewn voice is the title of this post. And, I must say, it’s not bad if you say the title as a single word. The links, however, had nothing whatever to do with satan, the devil, and least of all Lucifer.

The Brigitte tried and … lo and behold! The screen reproduced “Mephistopheles” in sharp purity and then brought us many articles right smack on the subject. A cultured voice? Yes. Arsen’s voice? Memphis Stuff Alice.

Now the actual use of that word for testing purposes came from a discussion yesterday in which we were trying to understand the origins of all those words that signify the Divine Opponent—not least the German version of “devil,” “Teufel.” As it turned out, however difficult to credit, devil and Teufel both derive from the Greek word diabolos; the roots are dia, meaning over or across, and ballein, to throw, thus “over-thrower.” The devil’s been with us a long time. Therefore many different peoples have taken that basic word and expressed them in rough-hewn languages like my own; thus the elegant diabolos gradually turned into first tiufel and then Teufel in German and deofol and then into devil in English.

Satan comes from the Hebrew word satan. I don’t know how the Greek pronunciation matches our own, but for the Greeks it meant an adversary, opposer, denier, plotter. What about Mephistopheles? The root seems Greek root, of course, but nobody knows. The educated guess provided by etymologists is that its roots are mepis, meaning scatterer or disperser and tophel, meaning liar or deceiver. All the meanings of this concept are, of course, pretty much the same, except Lucifer. But Lucifer was a bright angel before he descended into the depths; then his name changed. These days the common meanings, what with AI finally with us, must, however be extended also to mean that we should also look out for stuff from Memphis if Alice happens to bring it.

1 comment:

  1. To speak clearly it helps to have one's own teeth in the mouth, my dear. A net set of dentures can make such difficult words as Mephistopheles sound quite different, but only to a machine, I would guess. Machines do not yet, and may not for a long time to come, recognize context... I would guess.